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Life post-Ockhi is still not ok

THE ASIAN AGE. | SHASHI THAROOR
Published : Dec 17, 2017, 5:34 am IST
Updated : Dec 17, 2017, 7:31 am IST

The first point of distress stems from the fact they were not warned in advance of the impending arrival of the cyclone.

Angry protesters ask Kerala ministers Kadakampally Surendran and J. Mercy Kutty Amma to go back during their visit to Poonthura near Thiruvananthapuram.
 Angry protesters ask Kerala ministers Kadakampally Surendran and J. Mercy Kutty Amma to go back during their visit to Poonthura near Thiruvananthapuram.

Cyclone Ockhi, which has been categorised as a ‘very severe cyclonic storm’ by the Indian Meteorological Department, originated off the south-western coast of Sri Lanka before its landfall into the southern coast of Kerala during the early morning hours of November 30. At this stage, several fishermen from Thiruvananthapuram, particularly from coastal hamlets of Poonthura, Vettucaud, Valiyathura, Panathura, Vizhinjam, Pozhiyoor and Thumba, were already at sea and were therefore caught in the middle of the eye of the storm when it struck.

In the aftermath of Ockhi, as these communities begin to try and move on with their lives and attempt to re-establish some sense of normalcy, there remains considerable anguish and understandable frustration among members of these communities regarding the manner in which the crisis was managed.

The first point of distress stems from the fact they were not warned in advance of the impending arrival of the cyclone. While much of this anger is currently directed towards the local state administration, it must be pointed out that the task of making such initial predictions and issuing warning bulletins in this regard rests with the IMD, which is under the aegis of the Central government and as per standard protocol, is required to implement a four-stage cyclone warning system, in such cases.

As per this four stage system, the IMD first issues a special bulletin called the ‘pre-cyclone watch’ indicating any early potential indication for cyclonic disturbances. At the second stage, a ‘cyclone alert’ is issued 48 hours prior to any expected time of commencement of such disturbances. Next and most importantly, a ‘cyclone warning’ is required to be issued at least 24 hours in advance of the cyclone’s expected landfall. Finally, a ‘post landfall outlook’ is issued 12 hours prior to the landfall and continues till such time as the cyclone continues.

As per the standard operating procedure followed by the IMD, regarding storm intensity and the corresponding suggested action in the event of a ‘cyclonic storm’, a total suspension of fishing operations is recommended in the IMD’s warning bulletin which is then subsequently passed on to the relevant local authorities.

Based on these bulletins, it appears that while Cyclone Ockhi made its landfall over the southern coast of Kerala early morning of November 30, the actual cyclone warning was only issued at 12 noon Nov 30, completely inconsistent with the protocol of the IMD, which is expected to issue such a bulletin at least 24 hours prior to the expected commencement of the disturbance.

By the time the bulletin had been issued, passed on to the local state departments concerned and the necessary warning raised, fishermen who had ventured into the sea the previous night had already been caught oblivious by the cyclone and in the ensuing turbulence, many lost their lives and even today, nearly 100 fishermen continue to remain missing. It would therefore appear that there may have been some inadequacies in either our existing infrastructure to predict calamities such as Ockhi or alternatively, negligence on the part of the relevant officials of the IMD. It is an absolute priority to have a detailed enquiry into these circumstances.

The second point of anguish for the people of my constituency relates to the concerns about the approach of the rapid response teams of the Indian Navy and Coast Guard during the management of search and relief operations... I would also like to request that a detailed enquiry and a comprehensive review is conducted into protocols followed by these outfits during Cyclone Ockhi. Such a review would help identify deficiencies, if any, in the approach adopted by these forces and the resources at their disposal, such as the lack of iceboxes to preserve the bodies of fishermen found at sea. Some fishermen have complained that the Navy refused to pick up corpses because of the lack of on-board facilities to accommodate them.

Third, it is also imperative that this enquiry provides a comprehensive review of our existing infrastructure to monitor and predict such natural calamities.

We are already aware that the Government has spent an estimated Rs 20 crore on the installation of a Doppler radar on the premises of Vikram Sarabhai Space Station in Thiruvananthapuram. However, given the delay in the issuance of bulletins by the IMD, these appear to be currently either underutilised or worse, not functioning at all.

Such an enquiry would also allow us to understand if we are making use or incorporating findings from cutting edge advance warning systems across the world such as the Joint Typhoon Warning Centre.

As mentioned earlier to Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, there is also an urgent need to review the deployment of search and rescue aircraft and vessels by the Coast Guard and the Navy in the vicinity of Thiruvananthapuram. Given the number of serious incidents in these waters, it is a matter of concern that most of the available resources are located in Kochi, some distance (and travel time) away from Thiruvananthapuram and Kanyakumari.

(Excerpts from letter sent to the Prime Minister)

Tags: ockhi, indian meteorological department