A year has passed since the Cyclone Ockhi struck Kerala, but the wounds feel just as raw today. "My husband had ventured into the sea with three others a few hours before the cyclone alert was sounded," recalls Sherly Thomas, her voice quivering with emotion. "We tried calling them, telling them in any way possible about the approaching disaster, but we just couldn't get through. They never returned."
The Kerala government, however, plans to prevent such tragedies in the future. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan today distributed its first consignment of Navik sets -- equipment that guarantees connectivity even 1,500 km across the sea -- among fishermen in the state's coastal region. Around 500 fishermen will receive this device, developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), to start with.
According to the Kerala government, this would be the first time these devices are used in India. "One of the biggest challenges we faced when the Cyclone Ockhi struck was trying to alert fishermen who had already ventured in the sea. Some were well beyond 80 km when it happened," recalled Fisheries Minister Mercykutty Amma. The Kerala State Electronics Corporation Limited will manufacture the device on a mass scale with assistance from the ISRO, she added.
The sets will use a cluster of seven Navik satellites positioned in orbit over the country to relay messages to the fishermen, Director of Fisheries S Venkatesapathy told NDTV. Although Navik sets can only receive alerts for now, the ISRO is working on making two-way communication possible in the next batch. The government plans to give away 15,000 Navik sets by May.
Although the device has received a mixed response from the fishing community, they agree that it could prove to be a lifesaver in the high seas. "Somebody has to tell us how this thing works," Arulappan, a fisherman for 25 years, told NDTV after receiving his first Navik set from Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. "But the device will be of great help if it actually helps us learn of impending danger."
And, given that he was one among the many fishermen who played a crucial role in rescue operations during the Kerala floods in August, Arulappan does know what can spell the difference between life and death.