India gives survivors of tsunami 2p in compensation

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The Independent Online

There was anger and astonishment in India's Andaman and Nicobar islands this week after the Indian government started handing out compensation cheques to survivors of December's tsunami - for as little as two rupees (2p) each.

There was anger and astonishment in India's Andaman and Nicobar islands this week after the Indian government started handing out compensation cheques to survivors of December's tsunami - for as little as two rupees (2p) each.

Residents of the islands, the area of India worst hit by the Boxing Day tsunami, have felt abandoned by the authorities since the disaster. While the relief effort elsewhere in India and in other affected countries was widely praised, in the Andamans it was so poor that at one point starving survivors had to kidnap a senior bureaucrat in order to force the authorities to distribute food.

Now the miserly compensation cheques the government is handing out have added insult to injury. The chief Indian official on the islands, Lieutenant-Governor Ram Kapse, was forced to admit that "ridiculous compensation cheques" had been issued, after a BBC report revealed the pitiful amounts being handed out.

Charity Champion, who lives in Nancowrie in the Nicobar group of islands, got a cheque for just two rupees. She lost 300 coconut and areca trees in the tsunami, damage she estimates at 20,000 rupees. "Even judging by the government's assessment of damage, I should have received at least 5,000 to 6,000 rupees," she told the BBC. "You don't pay two rupees even for a broken window pane."

Ms Champion says she cannot even cash the cheque because she has no bank account. Daniel Yunus from Malacca on Car Nicobar, the worst-hit island, received a cheque for 41 rupees, which the Indian government said was to cover the loss of 200 areca nut trees and 300 banana trees.

This comes after the central government in Delhi said it would provide 8.2bn rupees for the relief and rehabilitation of tsunami victims in the Andamans. For survivors, the sums the government is giving out could be economically disastrous.

Before the tsunami hit, the Andamans were seen as a paradise by many Indians. Thousands of immigrants moved in from the mainland. But in the aftermath of the tsunami, those immigrants have been returning to the mainland.

It is mostly the ethnic Nicobarese who remain on the islands. Now, after decades of their indigenous culture coming under attack from a flood of mainland immigrants, they feel they are being abandoned. Many of those who made a livelihood from agriculture have lost their entire crop, as well as their homes, and will struggle to survive until they can replant.

"This is the biggest joke the administration is playing on these devastated people," said Rashid Yusuf, chief of the Tribal Youth Association in the Nicobars.

Trying to limit the damage from the bad publicity, Mr Kapse, the Lieutenant-Governor, said more compensation was on its way.

Many Indian commentators thought Mr Kapse was lucky to keep his job after the woeful relief effort on the islands. Survivors were left without food or shelter for more than a week while Mr Kapse's administration refused to allow foreign aid or relief workers to reach them.

At one point, survivors who had trekked for days without food or clean water found an official eating alongside crates of undelivered aid. Enraged, they kidnapped him and demanded that the relief be distributed.

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