Life isn’t as it was….it can’t be. Not with your home and hearth burnt to ashes. Despite a tragedy never witnessed, Wakka woke up to a sunny day and a ray of hope on Tuesday.
On December 22, at least 52 houses were reduced to ashes rendering more than 100 families homeless in Wakka village in Longding district of Arunachal Pradesh. The fire which broke out around 11 am on the fateful day lasted late into the afternoon. A 70-year-old woman, Bangman Gangsa, died in the inferno while properties lost and damaged are still being assessed by the district administration.
One church, several traditional granaries, fair price shops, three Angawanwadi centres, traditional boys’ dormitory and a vehicle were also destroyed while many domestic animals, including Mithuns were killed in the fire. The mishap also left more than 30 houses partially damaged.
In short, almost half of Wakka was ravaged by the fire, turning life in the quaint little village upside down.
As the villagers waited for the IAF chopper to land here this morning with the Chief Minister of the state, the atmosphere was saturated with expectations of a means to re-assemble their lives thrown wayward by the unexpected disaster.
The gloomy village – men, women and children trying to smile at officers and security people thronging the village in SUVs and flagged cars – put up a brave face. They welcomed Chief Minister Pema Khandu, Education Minister and local legislator Honchum Ngandam and state BJP President Tapir Gao with traditional fervour and Wancho flavour.
Khandu, while speaking at a simple gathering of villagers at the courtyard of the Wakka Chief’s residence which turned in to a makeshift relief camp, solemnly condoled the death of an elderly woman in the tragedy and prayed Lord Buddha for eternal peace of the departed soul.
He sought apologies for not being able to visit the village on December 30 as planned and explained that political compulsions forced him to cancel it. He, however, assured that the ‘small’ hiccup that his government had to encounter in the last few days has been resolved and that a stable government is in place.
“Development is not possible without a stable government. Now when we have it…you can very well expect development to rush in,” he said.
Khandu asserted that for Tirap, Longding and Changlang districts times are going to change fast.
Placing his shock and grief over the fire tragedy before the villagers, Khandu said the state government is aware of the loss that cannot be made up, no matter what the relief measures are.
Khandu, who was at Delhi at the time of the tragedy, had released Rs 59 lakhs from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund to the district administration for relief and rehabilitation measures.
He assured that whatever more is needed after completion of the assessment by the administration, the state government will promptly sanction it.
“Our government will not think twice to help the people of Wakka in rebuilding their lives,” Khandu said.
The Chief Minister lauded the NGOs and civil society bodies that voluntarily came in aid of the Wakka fire victims. He specifically appreciated the media fraternity of the state, AAPSU and APWWS for conducting donation camps and bringing people from all walks of life together to help Wakka.
Personally, Khandu voluntarily donated a sum of Rs 7 lakhs for relief and rehabilitation of the victims.
Honchum Ngandam, who represents the area in the legislative assembly, handed over the donations of Deputy Chief Minister Chowna Mein (Rs 2 lakhs) and Mukto legislator Jambey Tashi (Rs 1 lakh) to the local relief committee.
Earlier on arrival, the Chief Minister took stock of the relief materials reaching Wakka. He instructed the Circle Officer to personally monitor the rehabilitation process and get back to the government for any requirement.
As the IAF chopper left Wakka from the makeshift helipad at the village football ground, men, women and children waved expectantly knowing not if anybody’s waving back.
As dusk settles in….life in Wakka is yet to set in.