New Delhi: Two days ago, with the combined power of three hurricanes and believed to be West Bengal’s fiercest cyclone in decades, Amphan battered massive areas in West Bengal and Odisha.
The cyclone has left an irreparable damage on Sundarbans region and its people in South and North 24-Parganas. So far, 80 people have lost their lives, with the majority of deaths taking place in the districts of Kolkata, and the two districts of 24-Parganas.
The Sunderbans region is still reeling under the damage caused by cyclones 'Aila' and 'Bulbul' which had claimed more than 300 lives in Bengal and Bangladesh in May 2009 and November 2019, respectively. The houses that had been damaged in November 2019 had still not been repaired when Amphan once again uprooted the people of Sunderbans from their homes. Tens of thousands of homes have been destroyed in the wake of the cyclone.
Mud embankments and dams in the Sundarban delta, a UNESCO site, were breached as the surge whipped up by the cyclone submerged several kilometres of the Island. With sea water entering agricultural land, the government officials now fear more than two lakh farmers will be severely affected. The agrarian economy of Sundarbans is mainly based on rice farming on fallow land throughout the year.
On the Indian side, there are a total of 102 islands in the ecologically fragile Sunderbans region, and around 54 of these islands are inhabited by humans. The areas worst hit by Cyclone ‘Amphan’ are Ghoramara Dweep and Kalinagar in Kakdwip, Naamkhana, Bakkhali, Frasergunj, Sagar and Pathor Pratima Island in South 24-Parganas.
West Bengal’s Sundarbans Affairs Minister Manturam Pakhira told the media that nearly 17,800 hectares of agricultural lands may have been damaged because of saline water from seas entering the farms.
“Our estimate suggests that nearly 1,08,000 farmers have been affected. This is going to be a black day in the history of Sundarbans,” he told the media. Pakhira added, “During Cyclone Bulbul, 1,31,772 houses were fully damaged and 2,155 houses had partial impact. At that time, the wind speed was around 140 kmph and there was a low tide in the river. But this time, the wind speed was around 175-180 kmph and we fear that the extent of damage would be beyond repair. We cannot do much when a natural calamity of this magnitude strikes, but we are happy that several lives were saved.”
The Trinamool government has not yet said anything about whether compensation will be offered to the families who have lost their homes and farmers who have lost their crops and lands due to the cyclone. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a rehabilitation package of ₹1,000 crore for the cyclone-affected West Bengal on Wednesday.
“An advance assistance of ₹1,000 crore will be arranged by the government of India, so that the State government does not face any major hardship during these difficult times,” he said after surveying the damage on Friday. “In addition, ₹2 lakh will be given from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund to the family of the deceased and ₹50,000 each for the seriously injured,” he added.
Other regions in the North and South 24 Parganas have also been severely affected by the cyclone. The region has had no power supply for the past 48 hours, resulting in protests by the locals. In North 24 Parganas, when local residents gathered to protest against the lack of electricity and potable water, they were allegedly attacked by Trinamool Congress men.
Declare Cyclone Amphan as National Calamity
In Delhi, 22 Opposition parties urged the Centre to immediately declare the devastation caused by Cyclone Amphan in Odisha and West Bengal as a national calamity and called for substantially helping the two states in facing the impact of the disaster.
The leaders of the 22 parties, who met through video-conferencing, passed a resolution in this regard and said relief and rehabilitation should be the topmost priority at this juncture, a PTI report said.
"We, the opposition parties, extend our sympathy and support to the governments and people of West Bengal and Odisha in meeting the impact of the devastation caused by Cyclone Amphan," the resolution said.
It said a natural calamity like Cyclone Amphan has come as a double blow to the states amid the coronavirus pandemic, breaking the spirits of people.
"Opposition parties, therefore, urge the central government to immediately declare this as a national calamity and substantially help the states in facing the impact of this disaster," the resolution said.
It added that the people of Odisha and West Bengal urgently need the support and solidarity of the governments and citizens of the country.
Noting that relief and rehabilitation should be the topmost priority at this juncture, the resolution said the possibility of an outbreak of other diseases as a result of the calamity must also not be ignored.
During the meeting, the leaders conveyed their deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives due to the cyclone.
The meeting called by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi was attended by the leaders of the Trinamool Congress (TMC), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and Left parties, among others.
(with inputs from PTI)