When Cyclone Nilam hit the north coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh in November last year, fishermen like 70-year-old A Ravulu in Srikakulam district's Dibbalapalem had just seconds to flee. As they ran for their lives, most of them crossed a 10-metre-high dilapidated building but didn't know that the imposing structure was a t tufhanu rakshana bhavanamu (cyclone shelter).
Well acquainted with the sea and its changing tides, the old fisherman is still not aware of the fact that the cyclone shelter had been standing there since 1982.
Ravulu, who works at private fish storage depot, says: "I don't remember seeing the building in use ever." Several such cyclone shelters in ruins along the coast (Visakhapatnam to Srikakulam) bear the testimony that nobody's concerned about the public utilities.
The tufhanu rakshana bhavanamu at Dibbalapalem was dedicated to the people of Andhra Pradesh by an IAS officer, Sravan Kumar, on March 16, 1982. Not in use now, the building has developed huge cracks and is on the verge of falling down. Some other cyclone shelters have been converted into police stations, schools and government offices besides others occupied by private developers.
The prominently visible Rishikonda Marine Police station, around 15 km from Visakhapatnam, is an example of building-use redistribution or change effected by the government. A new building was constructed where a cyclone shelter once stood and was given to the police station in 2007, a constable in the station told Hindustan Times.
Some distance away at Mangamaripeta, a section of another cyclone shelter was being used as a primary school. After the school moved to its own building, the place had been abandoned by authorities. While children use the empty building to play hide-and-seek, it turns into a hiding place for anti-social elements at night.
Abandoned cyclone shelter at Dibbadupalem. Photo : KV Lakshmana
The school shifted to its new building some three years ago. Now, this building is is for entire village to use, said Jayakumar, a student.
If cyclone hits us here, this building is of no use. It cannot be used as a camp," said another resident. Several cyclone shelters were constructed all along the coast up to Orissa border after the 1977 super cyclone that swallowed Divi village in Krishna district and took 20,000 lives across the state.
"The one in shambles at Dibbalapalem is a reflection of public apathy and indifference to anything not directly owned by the people individually. No one feels he has personal stake in it," said M Vamsi Krishnan, manager SBI branch manager at Bheemunipatnam.
Mangamaripeta cyclone shelter that has hosted a municipal school. Photo : KV Lakshmana
"More such abadoned shelters at nearby villages of Chinna Nagayya Palem, Pedda Nagayya Palem, Annavaram could be seen silently facing the tides of time.