After providing 4 days notice severe cyclone Amphan struck West Bengal on the evening of 20th May. Unlike most cyclones in the last two centuries this stuck to its course, hitting Kolkata, after making landfall in Sunderbans on time but thankfully at a lesser speed than predicted.
This was a double whammy for West Bengal and Odisha, Covid19 lockdown and then this super cyclone. By the time the cyclone passed over Kolkata it was pitch-dark and many parts of the city lost electricity. All of us soon realised that most parts of the city were flooded, even though we did not experience very heavy rains. Soon the worst fears came true – city’s drains had become in-lets with backpressure.
When the city woke up the next morning we could not still fathom the magnitude of the destruction. As the day progressed the ghastly picture started to emerge, which became clear by Friday morning. The Chief Minister did a press conference taking credit for moving nearly 5 lac people and the resultant low death count of 72.
Hon’ble Prime Minister Modi ji arrived in less than 48 hours to do an aerial survey with the Chief Minister. He, on the spot, sanctioned an interim amount of Rs 1,000 crores (remitted next day) and Rs 2 lacs to the family of deceased and Rs 50,000 to the injured.
By Friday evening most parts of the city was still without power and water, people started loosing patience and started to vent their anger. This anger was full blown by Saturday morning. Realising that things were completely beyond the State Government and KMC’s control, the state government finally requested Centre for Army deployment. Within a few hours jawans of the Indian Army were seen in various parts of the city. Major question why the 72 hours delay in calling the Army? May be she hesitated due to the rather derogatory remarks made by her in the past. I am producing some of them here:
“Army is trying to do a political coup.”
“Army is trying to capture Nabanna.”
“Army is illegally checking vehicles.”
“Show proof of surgical strike.”
“Army is playing politics by saluting the Carona Warriors.”
“Army is acting as a political tool of Modi.”
Clearly, the ego of our Chief Minister stood as a wall, sacrificing the people’s interest. In Kolkata, all the relief and rehabilitation work, post Amphan Cyclone, is being carried out by Indian Army & NDRF while the state apparatus is nowhere to be seen. There were tall claims made by the self-appointed head of Kolkata Municipal Corporation- the Mayor, the inefficiency of KMC and their ill-preparedness to deal with the destruction caused by Amphan Cyclone in restoring water & electricity connections in various areas of Kolkata was out in open for everyone to see. In such a scenario, I have a question for the self appointed Administrator of KMC (the Mayor):
Do you remember a cyclone called Aila that hit Kolkata 11 years ago? Trees feel in thousands, electricity and water was disrupted. Did you take any lessons from that? Clearly not!
A day before Amphan devastated us, the self-appointed Administrator (Mayor) informed the media that all arrangements have been made, there will be no water logging for even a minute and uprooted trees, if any, will be cleared immediately. He also predicted that the cyclone would pass over east of Kolkata. From where he got this information, only he would know.
The reality is- nothing was done, probably numbed by the belief that this time also the cyclone will not hit us. While everything in West Bengal moves on the inspiration of Smt Mamata Banerjee, Amphan did not oblige. The City suffered badly as the Administration had left us to the elements with not a single measure in place. More than 5,000 trees fell, bringing down electrical poles, entangling wires and causing a mess out of it. So much for the assurance given nearly 5 years back that the city will be free of these illegal wiring!
By day 2 of Amphan striking us we heard that KMC is running helter skelter looking for electric saws, dumpers etc. To add insult to injury at several places fight broke out between syndicates (all TMC patronised) on the ownership of the wood of felled trees and resultant ‘cut money’.
During all this, the following comments made by those in power and in positions of responsibility turned out to be most bizarre:
The Chief Minister – “what else can I do, you can cut my head off.”
The Administrator (Mayor) – “Could I keep 50,000 people ready?”
All the claims of the Chief Minister that 1,000 teams of State Disaster Force, KMC, Fire Brigade working along with NDRF and the Indian Army, seemed to be empty. May be the state government teams were not in uniform, which fell prey to cut money. The only uniforms visible in the local channels and print were that of the Indian Army and the NDRF. Another uniform visible was that of the Odisha Fire Service. CM Naveen babu extended his helping hand by sending 30 teams, completely equipped, despite his State being hit by Amphan, though less. What a neighbourly spirit!
Amid all this the people of West Bengal can’t but thank the Central Government for timely intervention for relief and rehabilitation post Amphan Cyclone.
(Note: The article was authored by Shishir Bajoria. He is is BJP leader from West Bengal and Core Committee Member of the Foreign Affairs Department, Bharatiya Janata Party.)