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In Wake of Cyclone Yaas, Unrest in Bengal’s Coastal Areas Over ‘Lack’ of Relief Material

With large tracts inundated, many villagers living in relief camps in South 24 Parganas and East Medinipore say they have not received basic relief, like drinking water and food.
In Wake of Cyclone Yass, Unrest in Bengal’s Coastal Areas Over ‘Lack’ of Relief Material

Image Courtesy: PTI

Cyclone Yaas, along with the high tide, has destroyed numerous homes in West Bengal’s South 24 Parganas and East Medinipore districts, including Digha, Kanthi, and Shankarpur. As a result, people are stranded in these areas even 72 hours after the calamity struck. They have nowhere to go, as coastal embankments at the sea shore and river embankments are still broken, and their homes are in knee deep waters.

On Friday, many such families staged protests in the area, demanding that the state government provide them with relief material. In the three days since Yaas hit the southern part of the state, not a single government representative has been seen, some protesting villagers told Left activists, who are involved in community work. In Gosaba and Rangabelia islands, former Left Front minister Subhas Nashkar is leading a community effort to repair river embankments so that normalcy can return in the inundated areas.

Later, Nashkar told this correspondent that in Gosaba, the embankment was not broken but the high tide easily crossed the embankment. After the weather department had predicted the high tide, the government had sent tarpaulin and cash to the panchayats in place of the much-required gunny bags of concrete that are needed to strengthen the embankments, he said.

According to a report in magazine, Down to Earth, citing a Sundarbans Development Board official, “after Cylone Aila struck the state in 2009, Rs 5,000 crore was sanctioned to strengthen and rebuild close to 1,000 km of 3,500 km embankment in Sundarbans on the  recommendations of an expert committee set up by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. However, hardly 100 km of embankment has been constructed so far (June 2020), while 20% of the allotted money has already been spent.”

Nashkar alleged that most of the Central funds allocated for embankment construction had not been fully utilised.  “Had the embankments been ready now, this catastrophe could have been avoided,” the Left leader said, alleging that while the state government seemed prepared for Cyclone Yaas, it seemed unprepared for the high tide that wreaked havoc in coastal regions.

Meanwhile, some unrest was reported from South 24 Paragana’s Sagar Island as marooned people in Kachuberia and Muri Ganga areas staged protests and were even allegedly lathi-charged by the police.

According to Left volunteers involved in relief work, even safe drinking water is not available to the stranded villagers, as tube-wells are under knee-deep water.

As per reports, the entire Ghoramara Island is inundated and unofficially, five deaths have been reported in the area.

Due to inundation in several areas of Sagar Island, villagers have taken refuge in high areas and relief camps. However, there is scarcity of food and drinking water.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Bidhaan Das alleged there was shortage of relief material and safe drinking water in 89 relief camps. He said no one from the local administration was present to supervise the relief camps and operation.

In Ghoramara and Sagar Islands, 57 booth areas are currently in dangerous condition, he claimed, adding that in Bakkhali village, 18 booth areas were completely inundated, as was the case in Chemaguri and Muri Ganga.

In Gosaba, Bidhyadhari river and Gomor river, too, embankments have been breached leading to the entire area going 2.5 feet deep under water. In Sonaga area, nearly 2,200 feet of the river bank has been reportedly breached.

Left volunteers also alleged that the Sundarbans Development Board had not done enough to prepare and maintain river embankments within stipulated time.

CPI(M) South 24 Parganas district secretary Shamik Lahiri told NewsClick that there were reports of breach of river embankments  in Gosaba, Basanti, Patharpratima, Kakdwip, Sagar, Namkhana Kultali ,Mathurapur and Kulpi-Dimaond Harbour, and all inundated areas were without electricity .

Demanding adequate relief material for the stranded people, the Left-led Sangjukto Morcha announced that on May 31 and June 1, they would submit a memorandum to sub-divisional officers of all affected blocks and the district as well.

In Tamluk, under East Medinipore district, and in the hinterlands of the river Subarnarekha in West Medinipore district, large-scale destruction and agricultural loss have been reported due to inundation of river banks. To top it, due to heavy rain in Jharkhand, the excess water from the state’s Galudi dam had to be released, resulting in an increase in water level of Subarnarekha river in West Bengal.

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