June 3, 2009



KOLKATA, 1st JUNE: The full measure of the widespread impact of the cyclonic storm and rising tides that hit Bengal on the night of 25 May is now being felt in full measure.  The wide picture emerges because of 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 looked primarily but not confined to help of every kind to the people in dire, unprecedented distress.

Let us begin the report with a few statistical figures.  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 – and they 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.

We who have reported on the disastrous floods of 1978 -- and the natural disasters that have followed since, especially those that occurred in the late 1980s and the early 1990s of the past century can state with a touch of pardonable pride that never had the mass of the people been more 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 – with participation of the Left mass frontal organisations, struggling 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 bring luminosity in a wider sense amongst the fearful and cowering who stood under the open yawn of the sky from which rain poured, stopped, and poured again, and 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.  We should know.  We have been there. The fearfulness that we felt started to overwhelm us, but a stranger in a strange landscape, when darkness fell—and it stayed dark amidst of harsh crackling of thunder and lightening overhead as the remnants of the storm roared past fairly regularly in single blasts of hot air, bringing more destruction in its wake.  Life had virtually to be started anew amongst 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 property and cattle have been lost forever.  Road networks have been reshaped 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, and who finally failed in their old age to fight the fresh onslaught that emerged rushing out from the darkening horizon for a period of but a few hours at the destructive peak.

The LF 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.  Dropped, 3400 thousand 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 LF government.  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.  Bengal is proud that not a single case of water-borne diseases has broken out even as we tap these words out from the heart of the disaster zone in north 24 Parganas, and today in the nine days that have gone by, 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, water supply or guise-building 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 LF 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 Professor 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 remoter and rendered almost impassable Balidwip island of Gosaba in south 24 Parganas.  Buddhadeb indeed made a hurricane tour of sorts across everyone of the storm centres with the maximum number of casualties, heartening the simple village folk with new hope, and left them amidst tears of joy.

Left Front workers collected funds throughout the state from 28 May and the effort continues as we file this report.  Biman Basu himself led the first wave of LF volunteers out in the streets of Kolkata to collect funds and material help.  The LF government has called upon the UPA-led Congress government up in Delhi to declare the present natural calamity aftermath in Bengal as a ‘national disaster,’ and it has also cited the 12th Finance Commission report to demand a minimum of Rs 1000 crore as relief.

All this has left the Trinamuli chief in a huff and a puff.  She has lambasted every effort made at relief by the LF and the LF government as ‘bogus,’ without citing concrete proof, and has called upon the UPA government to send the relief funds straight to the district magistrates bypassing the state government.  This is nothing new.  One late Congress prime minister had created this odious dictum of PM-to-DM-minus-CM.  The Trinamuli chief is merely iterating that anti-people formulae.  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.

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 can never be bypassed.(INN)  

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