Known as the home of Olive Ridley turtles in Maharashtra, Velas is now struggling to keep itself afloat for three months. Situated in Ratnagiri district, just on the shoreline of the Arabian Sea, it is a coastal village nearly 225 kilometres from Mumbai.
Velas is known for the annual Ridley turtle festival. Turtles, between the months of November and March, nest on these beaches, following which they breed and lay eggs. However, since 2019, due to extreme weather conditions, the breeding period has been delayed.
The state was severely battered by Cyclone Nisarga on June 3. With Mumbai escaping the heat, its adjoining districts, especially the coastal areas, were not very lucky, Velas being one of them.
The village has a population of nearly 350 households. The cyclone heavily affected the coastal district and nearly 70 per cent of its trees were uprooted.
The local villagers are mainly involved in agriculture, which mainly includes coconuts, mangoes and betel nuts. With the cyclone destroying almost 70 per cent of the crops, the local villagers are now struggling to make ends meet.
"More than 70 per cent of the trees and crops in the village have either been uprooted or destroyed by the cyclone. It will take a minimum of 10 years to just regrow the trees. Now, we are struggling to earn a rupee," stated Sunil Shankar Darde, a local resident.
The villagers stated that, on June 3, authorities of local district offices notified them to vacate their huts only one and half hours in advance. The villagers abandoned their shelters, including their cattles and took shelter in a nearby village. However, safe houses were also battered by the cyclone and their roofs were blown away.
"Our cattles and shelters were severely affected. We lost our key to survival. It has been close to two months. we are yet to receive relief from the government," said Darde.
The villagers claim that the losses incurred in Velas is approximately Rs 10,000 crores and a team of government employees has already inspected the village. However, villagers are yet to hear from them.
"After the cyclone passed and the situation became normal, a team of government officials visited our village. They assessed the losses and took note of the magnitude of the destruction. They also filed paperworks. However, we are yet to hear from them. We are also unsure how they are going to provide us relief packages," stated Aradhya Padlekar, another villager.
Apart from agriculture, tourism also plays an important part in generating revenue for the villagers. However, with the current COVID-19 pandemic, resumption of tourism is still in doubt.
Meanwhile, various NGOs and civic volunteer groups have extended their support to the villagers.
A Mumbai-based tourism and outdoor recreation company has extended their support to the villagers. In the first leg of operations, the company has helped the villagers in rebuilding their houses and provided them ration as well. "As soon as we received a distress call from the village local, we approached people from our circle and started social media campaigns inviting help from friends, regular travellers, patrons and well-wishers, with which we were able to procure a month’s supply of food essentials. The same was distributed in the last week of June. But the ration will barely suffice all the families for maybe a little over three weeks,” stated Dhiren Talpade of Jumpstart Outdoors, highlighting the urgent need of additional support required to generate funds for the villages.