On Wednesday evening, inside the Collector’s office in Bhuj, an intense video-conference was on. The collector, along with his senior, were both reviewing the rescue and relief measures, taluka by taluka.
“The priority of the entire state is this district right now. What the Kutch collector demands he gets it and in more than adequate measure,” beamed Mahendra Patel, an IAS officer, who is the present collector of Kutch.
Perhaps this principle articulated by the officer came in handy assuming he prayed for relief as by this evening, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) downgraded Nilofar into ‘cyclonic storm’ from ‘very severe cyclonic storm’. Further, the IMD declared that by the evening of October 31, before hitting north Gujarat, Nilofar would remain nothing but a rainfall-precipitating depression.
On the ground, the estimates have been revised. Targets, like the cyclone, have been downsized.
When policemen showed up at the Jakhau fishing port and its settlement colony, Ishaq Suleiman Sodha quietly wrapped up his belongings and sat in the front row of the state transport bus with his wife. From there they were transported 16km eastwards to Naliya. The elderly couple comprised the 30,485 people in 123 villages that the administration in Kutch district had identified as being vulnerable to the approaching cyclone. That was in the run up. Now, the administration is looking at shifting merely 17,000 people to 139 relief shelters it has made.
“From emptying all settlements within 10km from the coastline, we are now only looking at relocating those in the low-lying areas. This is because the threat is no longer from wind speed but excessive rainfall,” said an officer coordinating the effort.
All the relief camps have been stocked with ration supply for five days. Special provisions have made for the elderly and pregnant women, especially those on the verge of delivery. Over 20,000 food packets have readied and delivered along with 750kg of milk powder for those evacuated. Over 100 diesel generator sets are ready to ensure every police station, district administration office and relief centre remained lighted up even at the worst of times.
In terms of fuel, 20 kilo litre of diesel and kerosene each have been stocked at Naliya (since it was expected to be worst hit) and 10 kilo litre of diesel and kerosene each for all other talukas. Ration shops were stocked with two months of supply. Hoardings have pulled down and trees trimmed.
All ports in Kutch and major factories were asked to shut down by the afternoon of October 30. A total workforce in excess of 5,000 personnel (including army, Border Security Force, State Reserve Police Force, National Disaster Response Force and district administration) have been kept ready for d-day. On its part, the army has provided each taluka with 3-4 columns, replete with requisite machinery. While the Indian Air Force is on the standby along with the Indian Navy, the Coast Guard has deployed four ships, four Dornier fixed wing aircraft and four helicopters not just to scan for fishermen pre-cyclone but to respond to any eventuality during the course and after the cyclone.
Having largely completed shifting out those in low-lying areas and operationalised relief centres, the administration is relieved. “Our teams will move around tomorrow to double-check the arrangements. Fear really is of heavy rainfall coupling up with high tide now,” said the officer.
Collector Patel, when asked about the funds and cost constraints, if any said, “We have been given a free hand by the state government. If required, centre will pitch in with funds we have been assured.”
All of this is leading many to believe the administration had clearly overplayed the threat. An irate businessman said, “Clearly the administration is over-reacting. We too have been tracking the cyclone and I am not sure if this massive kind of preparation was required.”
For those like Patel however, the priority was being prepared for the cyclone, not criticism. “Yes, we are aware of the downgrade. However the cyclone’s intensity may fluctuate and we would rather be safe than sorry,” said Patel.