Almost 35 years after a super cyclone ravaged its coast and cost 20,000 lives, Andhra Pradesh is bracing for another. But the dozens of cyclone shelters built along the state’s coastline in its aftermath stand as a testimony to shocking apathy today.
The shelters that dot the coastal fishing hamlets from Visakhapatnam to Srikakulam — Chinna Nagayya Palem, Pedda Nagayya Palem and Annavaram — are just a group of not so picturesque ruins.
The most recent was built in 1982 in Dibbalapalem, a fishing hamlet. Today, the 10-m-tall circular building is practically falling apart. Even 70-year-old A Ravulu, a domestic help at an adjacent fish storage depot, does not remember it ever being used.
Elsewhere, the buildings have been grabbed by private developers, some have been converted to police stations, schools or government offices.
The Rishikonda Marine Police station – around 15 km from Visakhapatnam – is a monument to pragmatism. In 2007, the building was constructed on the ruins of a cyclone shelter.
A stone’s throw from it, at Mangamaripeta, a section of a cyclone shelter was being used a primary school.
After the school shifted to another building, the shelter was abandoned. Now, during the day, it is a playground, and at night, a shelter for addicts and crooks.
Strangely, more than the authorities, the people blame themselves for the state of affairs. “The one in Dibbalapalem is just a reflection of public apathy and indifference. No one feels he has a stake in it,” was how M Vamsi Krishnan, SBI branch manager at Bheemunipatnam, put it.
The living example was Ravulu. “No one tells me anything. Is a cyclone coming?” he asked. And then, “I need a cup of tea. Can you give me Rs. 5?”