June 1, 2009

Aila cyclone death toll mounts to 125

Buddhadeb reviews situation at high-level meeting; outbreak of diseases feared

KOLKATA, 31st May: Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on Saturday held a high-level review meeting in the aftermath of cyclone Aila, which, according to official figures, has claimed 125 lives (excluding Darjeeling). Some villages still lie submerged, and there are fears of an outbreak of waterborne diseases.

Officials in Gosaba in the Sundarbans said there was an outbreak of enteric diseases in some areas there. Gosaba was facing acute shortage of drinking water as tubewells remained submerged.

Trinamool Congress chief and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee said in New Delhi after a Cabinet meeting that people were in a pathetic condition with neither food nor water to drink. Claiming that no relief was reaching the affected people, Ms. Banerjee said she had urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to send relief first, followed by an assessment team to review the actual conditions.

Reacting to reports of Ms. Banerjee wanting Dr. Singh to send relief directly to panchayats, West Bengal Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta, who attended the high-level meeting here, said: “Relief remains the responsibility of the State government, which cannot be bypassed.” He said accounts would be maintained properly.

On the State’s demand for Rs. 1,000 crore from the Natural Calamity Contingency Fund, he said this was a constitutional right. About 54 lakh people were affected by Monday’s cyclone and the floods that followed. Nearly 10 lakh houses were either damaged or razed. The State government had allocated Rs. 61 crore for relief operations. It had in its kitty only Rs. 210 crore through the National Disaster Management Fund. Under the 12th Finance Commission recommendation, the State government contributes 25 per cent towards this fund, the remaining coming from the Centre.

Meanwhile, at least three Union Ministers of State belonging to the Trinamool — Mukul Roy (Shipping), Saugata Ray (Urban Development) and Sisir Adhikari (Rural Development) — spent the day visiting the affected areas. Mr. Roy said relief should be distributed impartially.

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