People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIII

No. 23  

June 7, 2009

 

WEST BENGAL GOVT APPEAL TO CENTRE

 

‘Urgently Provide Rs 1000 Crore

For Relief To Aila Victims’

 

The West Bengal Left Front government has urged the centre to immediately sanction Rs 1000 crore to the state in order to mitigate the hardship of the people who have been devastated due to the cyclone storm Aila.

 

Bengal finance minister Asim Dasgupta met the union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and union home minister P Chidambaram in New Delhi on June 2 and submitted a detailed memorandum on the situation in the cyclone affected areas. Considering the severity of the calamity, the state government sought urgent release of funds from the National Calamity Contingency Fund.

 

CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and Party leader in Rajya Sabha, Sitaram Yechury, and Party leader in Lok Sabha, Basudeb Acharia, would jointly meet the prime minister during the current session of parliament on this issue.

Below is the summary of the memorandum submitted by the government of West Bengal to the central government seeking central assistance to the state from National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF) in the wake of the severe cyclone, Aila.

 

PORTENTS

OF DANGER

 

IT was predicted by India Meteorological Department (IMD) on May 25, 2009 at 0600 hours IST that a cyclonic storm, christened Aila with its center near latitude 20° North and longitude 88° East over north-west bay and adjoining central Bay of Bengal at 0230 hours IST of that day had moved in a north-north-westerly direction and was lying to the south of Kolkata. They predicted that Aila was expected to move in a near northerly direction and cross the coast of West Bengal near longitude 88° East near Sagar Island in the evening of May 25. Accordingly, it was forecast that heavy to very heavy rainfall at a few places with extremely heavy rainfall (≥ 250 mm) at isolated places was likely over Gangetic West Bengal. It also predicted that gale wind speed reaching 70-80 kmph gusting to 90kmph with every possibility of increasing to 110 kmph was likely to prevail along and off the West Bengal coast during the next 24 hours. The forecast that storm surges of about 2-3 metres above the lunar tide was likely to occur over the districts of south 24-Paraganas and adjoining areas of purba Medinipur during landfall; this posed a grave danger.

 

Following the previous predictions of depression on the May 23, and deep depression on the morning of May 24, the district administrations were alerted from May 23 onward to make all out preparation to mitigate the impact with activation of Crisis Management Plan relating to depression and subsequently cyclone.

 

THE FINAL

ONSLAUGHT

 

That Aila would hit Kolkata and the adjoining districts was not in the forecast issued in the morning of May 25. The districts in North Bengal also did not expect that the cyclone would veer towards these districts by the evening. However, by noon it was clear that Kolkata was going to be hit.

 

Finally, beginning 1400 to 1500 hours on May 25, Aila hit south 24-Parganas and then progressed northward and hit the metropolis of Kolkata. Aila continued its devastating journey northwards hitting the districts of Howrah, Hoogly, Burdwan, Birbhum, Bankura, Uttar Dinajpur, Dakshin Dinajpur and Darjeeling though with weakening intensity. These districts and Kolkata have not been hit by a cyclone of this ferocity since Independence.

 

In Kolkata, the weather deteriorated fast from the forenoon of May 25. Gale wind with speed up to 90 kmph devastated the city; communication was largely snapped by evening, as a result of unforeseen destruction of trees, and electric poles. The severity of precipitation which accompanied the cyclone fortunately did not match the destructiveness of Aila; the city’s arterial roads were not that badly hit as a result.

 

In the districts of south 24-Parganas and north 24-Parganas, lakhs of people were rendered shelter less by Aila. It pulled down houses, uprooted trees and electric transmission towers. The river and sea had swelled abnormally due to the cyclone; this was exacerbated by the occurrence of the new moon the day after. The resultant surge created by the strong easterly winds have surpassed records available in the last five decades with maximum observed level of 6.5 metres GTS on May 29, against the earlier recorded highest level of 4.5 metres. The tidal water overtopped the embankments in many stretches leading ultimately to their collapse.

 

Of the about 3500 km of embankments in the Sundarban region, a length of about 895 km have been washed away or severely damaged. The waves, consequently, washed away roads and inundated huge areas in the two districts of north and south 24-Paraganas; this cut off links of large tracts of land and habitations from the rest of the state.

 

People’s misery grew every hour as more and more areas got cut off and reaching relief became more of a challenge. Even some offices of block development officers and police stations came under 8-10 feet water. Water scarcity rose to never-seen-before level in these two districts. Especially badly hit were the blocks of Gosaba, Sagar, Namkhana, Patharpratime, Kakadwip, Basanti etc. in south 24-Parganas and Sandeskhali-I and II, Hingalgunj, Hasnabad, Minakhan, etc. in north 24-Parganas. In its wake, the cyclone uprooted an estimated 1500 trees in Kolkata and over 1,00,000 trees in the rest of West Bengal which added to the complexity in restoration of communication facilities.

 

NEED OF

THE HOUR

 

The severity of Aila was of unprecedented magnitude, something never seen in West Bengal before. The magnitude of damage in sectors like housing, agriculture, irrigation, power, roads & bridges, community assets, livestock, human life, drinking water, sanitation, has been of such an unimaginable level that it deserves to be considered a national calamity.

 

There is a need to immediately provide food, water, medicines, temporary shelters and clothing to the affected population. There is a need to provide House Building Grant, agriculture mini-kits, fishing implements and mini-kits and repair of community assets owned by Panchayats etc. from the balance of Central Relief Fund (CRF) now available. There is an equally urgent need to restore the infrastructure especially those that mitigate people’s hardships, like restoration of power and water supply and restoration of roads. There is an even greater need to close the breaches of the embankments which would protect the people from further tidal surges.

 

The state government is utilising its own budgetary resources and the Calamity Relief Fund for providing immediate rescue, relief, rehabilitation and restoration of damaged infrastructure. The CRF available with the government is grossly inadequate to meet the basic requirements.

 

Aila affected 199 blocks, 41 municipalities and 26,240 villages. As many as 63,90,515 people have been affected with the death toll having mounted to 125. As per the latest information, the number of cattle lost is 16,037 and 46.50 lakh hectares of crop area has been damaged. The number of fully and partly damaged houses (both katcha and pucca) is 3,59,573 and 5,35,309 respectively.

 

The state government has attached highest importance to the relief and rescue operations, and the chief minister along with the ministers concerned and officials is reviewing and monitoring the operations on a daily basis. At the district level, the district magistrates are leading the relief and rescue operations. In West Bengal, the policy has always been to involve the local Panchayati Raj institutions through the district and block administrations to reach relief to the affected population. Instructions have been given to the administration to maintain details of the persons receiving relief for ensuring transparency in the relief distribution.

 

As on date, 659 relief camps have been opened which are providing shelter to 3,17,006 persons. In addition 247 gruel kitchens have been opened and 372 medical teams have been deployed. So far, 3,50,000 pieces of tarpauline, 3400 metric tonnes of rice and relief contingency of Rs 3.50 crore have been distributed. To alleviate problems due to breakdown of water supply systems, 406 water tankers have been pressed into service; in addition more than 8,00,000 water pouches and 20,000 plastic jerry cans of water have been distributed to the affected population. Apart from this, five mobile water treatment units for on-site treatment and supply of safe water have been deployed in the critical areas. Simultaneously strong efforts are being made to restore normal water supply services along with necessary disinfection. Repair and restoration of embankments is of paramount importance as these serve as the main communication links in many parts of the Sundarbans.

 

The summary of the sector wise damage and the requirement of fund is provide in the table below:

 

S. No

Item/Sector

Total Damage (Rs. Lakh)

Fund Requirement (Rs Lakh) as per NCCF norm

1.

Animal loss

30,811

21,177

2.

House Building Grant

27,26,306

53,141

3.

Roads & Bridges

3,43,891

45,823

4.

Agriculture

18,523

8,570

5.

Drinking Water Supply

40,481

7,979

6.

Irrigation

2,45,266

5,01,94

7.

Power

2,500

104

8.

Health

1,500

298

9.

Community Assets owned by Panchayat

16,200

4,503

10.

Primary Education

11,112

1,585

Total

34,36,590

1,93,374

*Fund available from CRF

 

28,900

Mobilisation from central & state govt. budgetary resources for schemes such as NREG, IAY etc

 

40,000

Fund required from NCCF

 

1,24,474

 

*The fund available under CRF is Rs 157 crore from the last financial year and Rs 264 crore for the current year. Taking 100 per cent of the balance of last year’s CRF and 50 per cent of the amount to be received this year (balance 50 per cent being kept for the rest of the year), the requirement has been assessed.

 

In the assessment of the state government, after adjusting for the funds available from CRF and allowing for certain augmentation of central and state government budgetary resources for schemes such as NREG, IAY etc. and even some curtailment of state’s budgetary allocation from other sectors, at least a sum of Rs 1000 crore is immediately required to mitigate the hardship of the people who have suffered and to secure them and others from possible tidal surge in the immediate future.

 

This sums up the urgency for submitting a memorandum for accessing National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF), considering the devastation of a national calamity. The assessment of damage as well as fund required has been done strictly as per NCCF norms.