Rs 20 lakh fixed but Ockhi Victims still left in the Lurch

What’s the use of money in fixed deposits if it is of no use today? This is what haunts the Ockhi victims today. The families of the deceased have a considerable amount of money fixed in state treasuries (not to be withdrawn for five years) by the government but it is the loans that the deceased had taken haunt them down now. For the victims, if not allowed to withdraw the fixed deposit for repaying the loans, life is going to be unpleasant and it is for the government to take an immediate decision to save these hapless families.

The Ockhi victims now feel that the financial assistance from the government has only added to their woes and not served any of their needs. Loan burden has increased; financial institutions and private money lenders that gave loans are pressurising for full payment; people who once helped them are now keeping a distance and officials do not show any sympathy – all these because of the Rs 20 lakh in fixed deposits.

Now coming to the reality: the Rs 20 lakh in fixed deposits cannot be withdrawn for settling loans taken by their decedents nor can be used for completing their half built homes nor can be used for starting any new business venture. But a portion of the amount is allowed to be withdrawn by the families of the deceased only for marrying off their daughters and also health related issues. met a few of the Ockhi victims in Vizhinjam who shared their bitter experience post ockhi. Pushparani, mother of three daughters, said that they have been harassed by money lenders and avoided by neighbours and even family members. “Earlier, when we had any issue, be it financial or others, everyone would come and help us willingly. But now people see us differently. But the pity is that we are struggling more than before. Earlier, my husband was there to feed us but now I am the only one who has to struggle. No one is there to help me or my children,” she said.

Noting that the house that her husband had started to build was half way, she said “I am getting Rs 12,000 from the interest of the fixed deposit. But with this amount, I am not able to repay the loan dues and also feed my children. At times, I had even thought of ending my life because of all the financial issues and also the mental torture from everyone.”

Sharing her bitter experience to, Sindhu Yathra, whose husband is still missing after the disaster, says that life has become worse after Ockhi and worsened after the government had made the fixed deposit. Pointing out that the government’s assistance was a great solace to them, she said “the money is there fixed but what is the use if we cannot use this now for our needs. The bank from where my husband had taken had issued notice for attaching my property for non payment of the dues. But this has been stayed for the time being and I fear about the future.  The loan dues increase every month and I am not in a position for repaying even the interest of the loan.”

Sindhu has now got a job in the net factory as part of government’s policy of providing jobs to Ockhi victims. “A chunk of my salary and the interest that I get from the fixed deposit goes to repayment of loans.”  Noting that no one extended a helping hand now, she said “the people, including the family members, think that I am now rich. If ever I go for any help, they just ask me about the money that was given by the government.”    

Both Sindhu and Pushparani say that the government should allow them to withdraw the money for repayment of loans. “The dues are getting accumulated. If we are allowed to withdraw the fixed amount and repay the loans, it would be a great relief for us. If not so, we are not able to know how the loan is going to be settled,” they said.  

Meanwhile Paniyadima John, a social activist working among the fishermen community, also agrees that the money that the government has given to the ockhi victims was of no use if it was not allowed to be withdrawn now for their present needs. Noting that one of the main issues faced by Ockhi victims is repayment of loans taken by the deceased, he said “the government should take some lead in allowing these people to settle the loans with the amount that has been deposited in their names. If the government feels that the money once withdrawn would not be used in the right way by these victims, the government itself can take the initiative in settling the dues from the said amount and then deposit the remaining amount in their names.”

Moreover, he also blamed that the officials have never taken the pains to visit the families and discuss with them about the issues that they face. “If someone had talked to the victims and understood the immediate issues, then the government could have taken the stand of first repaying the debt of the victims and then depositing the remaining amounts in their names,” he said. Paniyadima also suggested taht the government should think of providing separate ID cards to the victims of Ockhi disaster so that it could be used for availing benefits in the future. He also said that the government should focus on improving the mental health of both the victims as well as the children of ockhi victims.

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