CHENNAI, India Police in southern India say they have uncovered evidence of illegal trade in kidneys sold by poor fishermen and their families whose livelihoods were destroyed by the Indian Ocean tsunami two years ago.
Community leaders in Eranavoor village, just north of Chennai, admitted that about 100 people, mostly women, have sold their kidneys for 40,000-60,000 rupees ($900-$1,350) since the December 26, 2004, disaster.
"We have launched a comprehensive investigation," Letika Saran, police chief of Chennai, told Reuters on Tuesday.
"This appears to be a big racket and we are collecting the details of donors and the hospitals involved," said another police officer, who declined to be identified.
Some of the 1,800 families near the city of Chennai say fishing became impossible after their seaside village was washed away and they were moved about 12 km (7 miles) inland to Eranavoor.
"There were hardly two or three cases of a kidney sale in a year in our colony before the tsunami," Maria Selvam, president of the local fishermen's association, said.
More than 7,000 people were killed when giant waves smashed into the coast of Tamil Nadu, the southeastern state of which Chennai is the capital.
While India was initially praised for its response to the disaster, non-government groups have since criticized the government for not providing adequate housing to the tens of thousands of people who survived but lost homes and livelihoods.
Among those who lost her house was Thilakavathy Agatheesh, 30, who said she sold a kidney in May 2005 for 40,000 rupees in the hope of setting up a small restaurant -- only to see her alcoholic former fisherman husband waste the money.
"I used to earn some money selling fish but now the post-surgery stomach cramps prevent me from going to work," she said.
($1=44.33 Indian Rupee)