People's Democracy

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


Vol. XXXIII

No. 23  

June 7, 2009

 

AFTERMATH OF AILA STORM

 

Comprehensive Relief And

Rehabilitation Under Way

B Prasant

 

THE widespread impact of the cyclonic storm Aila and rising tides that hit Bengal on the night of May 25 has now come out in full measure. The actual picture of the extent of damage emerged during the comprehensive relief and rehabilitation that have been under way under the aegis of the Left Front and the Left Front government. The former organised the mass of the people into relief efforts. The latter helped the affected people in all manner to overcome their unprecedented distress.

 

First, a few statistical figures. A total of 130 people have perished in the fury of nature until date. Nearly 70 lakh people, mostly in the coastal or littoral areas, have been adversely affected by the cyclone. The people have been suddenly deprived of – in the space of a few hours – of shelter, food, drinking water, communications, and medical assistance. All these are well on their way to being restored. The remarkable feature in this exercise has been the way the mass of the people have been pro-active in coming to the help of the neighbourhood they dwell, despite being afflicted themselves.

 

The Gram Panchayats and the CPI(M) local committees – as well as branches of the Party – with participation of the Left mass frontal organisations, struggled bravely together, virtually waged a war of relief during the first 24 hours of the calamity, offering water, food, shelter, and the ubiquitous flashlight or ‘torches’ to the cowering people who stood under the open yawn of the sky from which rain poured, stopped, and poured again. They stood bereft of every material possession and were surrounded by that horrible, mind-boggling stench of death – of men, women, children, and of dearly held household animals, small and large, single or in a herd. 

 

Added to this was the overpowering stench of rotting trees and vegetations and crops of every form. Life had virtually to be started anew for so many of the families of the littoral areas that we lost count long, long back, and these were the families we had a chance to visit over what were three days of disquiet of the horrific.

 

Let us go back to the statistics. Several thousand crores of rupees worth property and cattle have been lost forever. Road networks have been damaged as in an earthquake. Innumerable bridges, viaducts, overpasses, and countrymade bamboo cross-overs have been obliterated.  Built up areas resembled unending stretches of rice paddies with not a single vertical structure standing. The green cover has been blown with the uprooting of limitless number of trees, thick in trunk, large in shade, that were weathering veterans of storms over the past hundred years.

 

DISTRIBUTION

OF RELEIF

 

The Left Front government has distributed just under 30 lakh litres of potable water in plastic pouches and bags.  Jerrycans of water are carried to the more accessible areas. Around 3400 MT of dry food, as well as an equal amount of rice has been dropped from the air using the means available to the state government.  A total of 700 large relief centres and many more thousand smaller relief ‘camps’ are up and running where cooked food is supplied to the hungry and the underfed. Temporary godowns have been set up in strategic places to load up on relief materials for gradual feeding into the distribution system.

 

Millions of halazone tablets have been distributed to keep the water safe for drinking. It is a matter of pride for Bengal that not a single case of water-borne diseases has broken out till the time of filing this report from the heart of the disaster zone in north 24 Parganas. The last nine days have been nine crucially busy days for the members of rescue teams of the departments of power, PHE, health, rural development, Panchayat, and urban development. 

 

Over every form of infrastructure, be it power or health facilities, overpasses or roads or water supply, hangs the threat of total collapse. The engineers, the doctors, the technicians, and the construction workers are at it day and night without a pause that would refresh them –– in order to bring normalcy and the comfort that comes with it, to the affected people.  Gigantic and massive are the words that spring to mind, as we are witness to the relief efforts in action.

 

It is important to note that the Left Front government ministers led by chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee have made unobtrusive presences felt to lead the relief work and bring comfort and assurance of the elderly and the experienced to the people in dire distress.  Finance minister Asim Dasgupta like in the past was a tireless monitor at first hand of the relief efforts throughout Bengal.

‘Do not teach me geography,’ Buddhadeb was heard to snap at a state government official, ‘just tell me how many heads of cattle have been killed and how many carcases could be interned.’  He was at the remote and rendered almost impassable Balidwip island of Gosaba in south 24 Parganas.  Buddhadeb indeed made a hurricane tour of sorts across each of the storm centres with the maximum number of casualties.

 

COLLECTION

OF FUNDS

 

Left Front workers collected funds throughout the state from May 28 and the effort continues as we file this report. Biman Basu himself led the first wave of Left Front volunteers out in the streets of Kolkata to collect funds and material help. The Left Front government has called upon the Congress-led UPA government up in Delhi to declare the present natural calamity aftermath in Bengal as a ‘national disaster,’. It has also cited the Twelfth Finance Commission report to demand a minimum of Rs 1000 crore as relief.

 

Meanwhile the Trinamuli chief Mamata Banarjee has lambasted every effort made at relief by the Left Front and the Left Front government as ‘bogus,’ without citing concrete proof. Dangerously, she has called upon the UPA government to send the relief funds straight to the district magistrates bypassing the state government. The Panchayats run by the Trinamul Congress and  the Congress have stayed away from the entire relief-and-rehabilitation network, and south 24 Parganas and Midnapore east are glaring example of this betrayal of the people’s trust.

 

CPI(M) Bengal state secretary Biman Basu has been strident against the demand of the Trinamuli supremo. He warned saying that nobody should dare transgress the federal structure. The state government must never be bypassed.