A.V. Louis, 70, a resident of Bazar in Chellanam in coastal Ernakulam, stands in the middle of what looks like a graveyard of homes. The waves continue to lash the disfigured coastline along which a seawall is coming up.
“The others are all gone,” laments Louis, a fisherman. “Some have moved to rented houses while the others have sought rehabilitation under the Punargeham project. At my age, I cannot afford either of these options, having already given up two-and-a-half cents of my meagre five cents for the road,” he says.
A few metres from where he stands is an abandoned toilet built under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, 2018-19. The family for which it was built had moved as the sea had claimed their house.
People say costal erosion intensified ever since Cyclone Ockhi struck in 2017. Then came other disasters and torrential monsoon showers in quick succession.
“When cyclone Tauktae struck last year, the waves stormed the walls of our house. We ran for cover before we were swept away with everything else. The house is all cracked up now,” says Mary K.A., a 60-year-old resident of the Bazar area, from her house that has been fortified with sandbags and resembled more like a bunker.
A quarter century ago, the sea was at a distance from the shore and it was a pleasure for her as a newlywed to spend the evenings at the seaside.
“We used to play football there as recently as 14 years back,” says Naiju T.J., her son. But Antony T.X., 66, wasn’t as lucky as Mary. When cyclone Tauktae left Mary’s home bruised, it pulled down the one in which he lived, forcing him to rent a house at Thoppumpady at an unaffordable rate.
“The govt should complete the seawall and build us a house, as it’s beyond my means,” says Mr. Antony, a construction worker.
For Jude, 53, and his wife Metilda too it was heart-breaking to see their house in the Bazar area built just a few years ago crumble down bit by bit in front of their eyes before they sold what remained of it under the Punargeham project.
A people’s protest under the aegis of the Chellanam Janakeeya Vedhi against indiscriminate dredging, which allegedly led to change of course of oceanic current and resultant sea ingress in residential area, is set to hit 1,000 days in July.
Praying at a wayside chapel at Kandakkadavu, about a kilometre away from Bazar, 73-year-old Kanaka seems to realise that improving their lives may perhaps need more than a protest. Completing her prayers, she kept watching tetrapods, cone-shaped concrete structures to be laid across the Chellanam shore to keep the waves at bay, being churned out like baked cakes.
“They look nice, don’t they? Hope they serve their purpose well,” she says.