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Centre reviews relief measures for tsunami victims

By Our New Delhi Bureau

NEW DELHI, DEC. 28. With relief and rehabilitation work in full swing, the Central Government today announced that banks and financial institutions would provide loans on easy terms to the survivors of the tsunami catastrophe to rebuild their lives.

The death toll in the killer wave that hit the coastal States on Sunday was officially over 4,370, with Tamil Nadu bearing the brunt; 3,618 people lost their lives there. According to the Union Home Ministry, 429 were killed in Pondicherry, 149 in Kerala, 90 in Car Nicobar and Great Nicobar, and 85 in Andhra Pradesh. The figure is likely to be revised.

Disposal of bodies

The Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, today chaired a meeting of the special Group of Ministers set up to monitor and guide the relief and rehabilitation. Briefing correspondents, Union Ministers Shivraj Patil and Pranab Mukherjee said that special measures were being taken to speed up the disposal of bodies to prevent the outbreak of epidemics. The armed forces and the Central paramilitary forces, in collaboration with the State police forces and voluntary agencies, were engaged in this task.

Mr. Mukherjee said that till now about 80,000 people had been lodged in various relief camps in Tamil Nadu, 30,000 in Andhra Pradesh and 20,000 in Pondicherry. The scheme for relief operation and rehabilitation would be made district and area-specific.

Aid for Sri Lanka, Maldives

He said the Centre had also decided to provide an assistance of Rs. 100 crores to Sri Lanka and Rs. 5 crores to the Maldives. In addition, on Colombo's request, ships and helicopters had been sent there. Two ships were also sent to the Maldives.

The Ministers said the Reserve Bank had asked the banks and other financial institutions to provide loans on easy terms to the survivors.

The loans would be in addition to the assistance that would be provided by the States from the Rs. 500-crore Central package announced on Monday.

The insurance companies had been directed to accelerate the claims for damage, particularly for boats and other equipment of fishermen.

The Union Home Ministry, the nodal Ministry for coordinating relief and response, said that it was in constant touch with all the affected States and the Union Territories as well as the Ministries, departments and the armed forces.

Its control room had set up a helpline to provide information round the clock to the public about their relatives and friends. A senior officer had been deputed to Car Nicobar to coordinate massive relief and rescue operations there, an official release said.

Various State Governments such as Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh had also offered assistance and logistics were being worked out. Some States have announced cash relief. They include Gujarat (Rs. 7 crores) Karnataka and Maharashtra (Rs 5 crores each) and Delhi (Rs. 2 crores).

Focus on Andamans

The focus of the relief effort by the armed forces was more on the Andaman & Nicobar Islands which have not only suffered heavy damage but are difficult to access, official sources said. The IAF has pressed nearly every transport aircraft it could spare along with 30 helicopters for reconnaissance, ferrying the injured and dropping supplies in India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. The Navy was transporting relief material and with no survivors having been found in the waters off Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, ships have been directed to set up relief camps ashore for providing food and medical assistance.

The Coast Guard is undertaking a search for fishermen and has reported damage to 27,000 fishing boats along the Tamil Nadu coast.

Calling its rehabilitation efforts "Operation Sea Waves,' the Army has deployed elements from four regiments in the badly-affected areas of Kollam (Kerala) Kancheepuram, Cuddalore, Nagapattinam (all in Tamil Nadu) and Karaikal (Pondicherry).

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