Floods a punch in the gut for Kolhapur’s lockdown hit traders
Flood-hit traders in Kolhapur demand a long-term solution.
Rupesh Purekar is 38 years old. He has lived in a small house in Kumbhar Galli in Kolhapur’s Shahupuri area his entire life. He has seen the city getting flooded several times. But he says never has he seen rainfall, water levels and destruction like the last couple of years. His house, his business have all drowned in the flooded waters of Panchganga this time.
Last month, several parts of Maharashtra saw record rainfall and flooding. With the rainfall warning by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) at hand and the possibility of water discharge from dams, the flood-prone district and city of Kolhapur was prepared to handle floods by evacuating people and property this time. However, intense spells of rainfall within 48 hours led to the flooding of the city within hours, and people had to leave their homes leaving everything else behind.
Purekar makes a living by making Ganesh idols. This year, like 2019, all the idols he had made so far got ruined in the floodwater. His neighbour Sudhakar Purekar, who also makes Ganesh idols, says, “We have no option but to throw away all the idols. The idols made of Shadu (clay) completely dissolved in the water. Whatever is left cannot be used. We are looking at a loss of over a lakh just in this. We haven’t even calculated the loss of material and property. Ganesh Chaturthi is just over a month away. Let’s see what we can do now.”
Similar is the story of Rekha Prakash Kumbhar, who sells clay pots, lamps, idols in Kumbhar Galli. “I am throwing everything out. I tried to dry some of the things out in the sun, but that didn’t help. The rains just won’t stop. I don’t think we have enough time to make new idols and other things before the festival,” Kumbhar says, as she lays out all the wet, spoiled clay lamps and pots out on the road.
The idol makers and potters have been living in the Kumbhar Galli for over 50 years. But now, they are thinking of moving their base. “It was different when the floods came once in 15 years. The water would not cause so much destruction back then too. But if this happens every other year, we will not be able to survive. If the government offers rehabilitation, we are ready to take it. We just want a place equivalent to the market value of our property,” Purekar adds.
The water of river Panchganga as well as Jayanti Nala entered more parts of the city this time than the 2019 floods. And much faster too. “We have been living here since the 1970s. But it’s only the second time that we had to leave our homes because of floods. The water rose above the 2019 floodline. Our house and lodge was already drowned upto waist level when we left. It later rose to over 7 feet,” Suresh Purekar, resident of Lakshmipuri, who also runs Dattatray Lodge in the area, said.
Most shop owners, businessmen and residents in the area complained that they did not get any warning in time, and hence had no time to take their stock, machinery or furniture while leaving. “When Kolhapur Municipal Corporation’s officials came to warn us about the flood, the water had already reached our shop. The levels were rising fast, and we had no time to take anything out. We tried to keep some material as high as possible. But since the water levels were more than 2019, that didn’t really help. Water from the neighbouring area inundated the entire area within no time, and rose upto the second floor of buildings,” Aftab Saiyad, owner of Star wholesale and retailers of auto and two wheeler parts said.
When asked about the delay in giving warnings to people, an official from the Kolhapur Municipal Corporation (KMC) said, “This time the Corporation had prepared for the floods well in advance. We had planned evacuation and flood management as per our calculations from the 2019 floods. However, in 2019, the flood water had risen gradually, over a week. This time, there was no time. The water levels rose within a few hours, and even with all our planning, we hardly had any time to warn people. It’s fortunate that despite that, we evacuated the maximum number of people before it became too dangerous.”
This time, the floods affected more areas than in 2019. Several business owners are now thinking of moving out of the flood-prone areas, but with the water expanding to larger areas each time, the options are scarce. Apurva Mangaokar, the owner of the bakery ‘The Oven’ in Nagala Park said, “Our shop has been in this area for over 25 years. In 2019, the unexpected floods ruined the entire shop, the ovens, the refrigerator everything. This time, we were ready to move everything out when the flood warning came. But the water rose so fast, we had no time to arrange for tempo. We had to buy everything new in 2019. Looks like we would have to do the same this year as well. We are thinking of shifting our shop, but where?”
While the 2019 floods took the traders by shock, 2021 has added to the already existing difficulties created by the COVID-19 pandemic. With shops and businesses closed or open for limited hours since last March, the losses incurred in the floods have caused much more disruption in the lives of these businessmen than they could imagine. “The hotel industry has been in loss since the pandemic began last year. Hotels, restaurants and eateries have remained shut for most of the period. Delivery service is on. But for smaller restaurants like ours, where the average orders are hardly worth Rs 200, deliveries are not really viable. And now, floods have taken away whatever little that we had managed to earn,” says Amit Subhedar, owner of Hotel Natraj in Kolhapur’s Shahupuri.
“The force of the water was such that the furniture, the refrigerator were toppled by it. We saved some furniture, but the electrical equipment are useless now. There is insurance, but it doesn’t really help much. The compensation that we get is not sufficient. What we need from the government is a solution to this problem. We cannot suffer like this every other year,” he added.
Lockdown restrictions imposed since the beginning of 2020 did not give the traders hit by the 2019 floods a chance to make up for the losses incurred in the floods. At the same time, as the number of COVID-19 cases in Kolhapur district continues to be high, in its latest order, the Maharashtra Government has decided not to lift restrictions imposed in the district since April. The traders have now asked for a relaxation of lockdown restrictions in the flood-hit districts. They have asked the non-essential shops here to be allowed to remain open till 8 pm.
Speaking of a need for an urgent solution over the grievances of flood-affected traders and businessmen, Girish Satam of Satam Painters near Venus Chowk in Lakshmipuri said, “The government must immediately pay attention to all the traders affected by the flood. There are many young businessmen and they need the government's support in these difficult times. We have demanded an aid of Rs 1 lakh each in addition to the compensation as per the punchnama. The punchnama needs to be completed soon. We also request the administration to give us relief from electricity bills for the time being and put our EMIs on hold for at least six months.”
He also said that apart from the immediate relief measures, it’s high time the government starts thinking of a long-term solution. “The government must immediately constitute a committee comprising municipal officials, district administrators, subject experts and so on. We need a defined plan for better flood management in coming years.”