Residents of Chennai and its neighbouring districts have been hit by a double whammy in the wake of Monday’s largescale destruction wrought by cyclone Vardah.
For thousands already reeling under the November 8 demonetisation shocker, the storm has piled on the misery by disrupting power lines, internet and mobile services in Chennai, Kancheepuram and Thiruvalluvar districts.
“We could deal with the (last December’s) floods. Everyone banded together and helped each other out. But now no one has any money to help or even buy food or supplies for themselves,” says Stephen S, an auto-driver.
The first major natural disaster in Tamil Nadu after the demonetisation drive has exposed the chinks in technology-driven payment modes.
Just when people were slowly getting used to making payments through debit and credit cards and a host of digitial payment modes like Paytm and the like, they woke up to rude shock on Tuesday with shops, restaurants and petrol pumps declining plastic money as internet services and mobile telephony remained knocked out.
Srinivasan Chitluri, a private sector employee in Mylapore, said the government’s push for a cashless economy may be good in theory and intent, but on the ground the situation was different.
“It is just something that no government can think of and provide for,” countered college student S Vikram, convinced that it was a temporary setback and things would return to normal in couple of days.
In coastal Chennai’s Nochi Kuppam, when the first rumblings of Vardah were heard, fisherman Logesh S only thought of his boats.
“All of us here were praying that our boats do not get destroyed,” says the wiry 42-year-old, picking through the remains of the corrugated iron shack that was once his home.
“This is something we can rebuild from, though it will cost a lot,” he says, gesturing towards a group of men sorting through the wreckage. “But earning the money to do so, especially now, is difficult.”
It’s been a common complaint since Vardah left a trail of destruction and broken power lines in Chennai and its surrounding districts, killing 18 people and plunging thousands into darkness.
“How am I supposed to manage? There has been no power or water in my building since Monday and I cannot withdraw any money to buy provisions” says KS Bhanu, a retired civil engineer. “It’s a complete disaster,” adds the 72-year-old.
It’s a Catch-22 for many residents here: Either they find an ATM that has power but no cash, or you come across one that’s in total darkness.
“Networks are down so our cards are also useless,” complains Preeti Soundararajan, a 34-year-old techie with TCS. “There’s no electricity or water at home and now we can’t even afford to buy food or supplies because none of us has change.”
According to RBI data, Tamil Nadu has 23,728 ATMs, mainly concentrated in its cities.
Chennai has more than 3,200 ATMs, with the majority not working or unable to dispense smaller denominations that its residents have been clamouring for.
The issue also figured in the Lok Sabha, with former finance minister P Chidambaram demanding that the Centre provide financial aid to the state.
Chief Minister O Panneerselvam had on Tuesday written to the Prime Minister requesting Rs 1,000 crore in financial aid from the National Disaster Relief Fund.
Despite the state government’s best efforts, on Wednesday parts of the city were still trying struggling with power outages and poor mobile and internet connectivity.