“It is extremely unfortunate that the Government of India has still not understood the enormity of the damage caused by cyclone Aila in West Bengal and not described is as a national calamity,” Brinda Karat, Rajya Sabha MP and member of the Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said on Wednesday.
Ms. Karat was returning to Kolkata from an official visit to the Gosaba block -- one of the worst-hit areas by the cyclone that struck almost four months ago.
By not describing it as a national calamity, the Centre has deprived lakhs of cyclone victims of the relief they would otherwise have received, she regretted.
Ms. Karat was in the Gosaba block, along with Minister for Sunderban Affairs Kanti Ganguly, to distribute solar lanterns to children who are unable to study due to lack of power supply following the disaster. Much of the solar equipment, a major source of power in the region, has been destroyed.
Solar lanterns distributed
In all, 2000 solar lanterns were distributed on the day as part of a project worked out by Ms. Karat and Mr. Ganguly and initiated by the West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency. The project, that has received the financial backing of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, envisages the distribution of 14,000 such lanterns to the cyclone-affected homes in its first phase. Another 2000 solar lanterns had been distributed on an earlier occasion.
Describing as “absolutely enormous” the extensive damage caused by the cyclone in the region to agriculture, Ms. Karat said local opinion feared it would take several years for any sort of recovery.
More than a lakh home ponds need to be immediately de-watered, as the cyclone resulted in saline water gushing into thousands of ponds and canals. The district administration wanted the de-watering process to be brought under the purview of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act “but here too, the Central government is showing inexplicable inflexibility,” she said.
“Shocking” financial assistance
Another “shocking” issue is related to the financial assistance. The State government was expected to provide 10 per cent of the amount being given by the Centre, “but now, it is being said that the State’s component should be raised to 25 per cent,” she said. The Centre has assured an allocation of Rs.1,000 crore in the Budget for rebuilding the infrastructure damaged in the cyclone.
The parameter by which the Centre assessed losses and requirements to offset them, is also questionable in a situation where relief needs to be rushed to the devastated region in a massive way, Ms. Karat said. She cited the grant of Rs. 2,500 for the restoration of houses partially damaged as “ridiculous,” indicating the callous manner the disaster was being perceived.