KOLKATA: With West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee refusing to term the massive inundation of southern Bengal districts as ‘floods’ and no signs of relief reaching affected villages, flood victims in Arambagh of Hooghly district and Ghatal of Paschim Medinipur district are sustaining themselves by fishing in flood waters and sharing among themselves whatever little rice they are left with.
The fish have been brought by swelling rivers Silabati and Dwarkeswar to the low-lying Ghatal-Arambagh region. “Fresh seeding of the season’s paddy and all investments along it are lost to the floods. However, a lot of fishes from the two rivers have come into our inundated fields. So youngsters from affected families venture out since morning to fish in the flood-waters. While we keep the major catch with us, we sell the surplus in Arambagh market to buy oil and salt,” said Sheikh Nasir Ali of Saora village near Arambagh town.
However, rice is scant to have fish curry with. “We are sharing among ourselves whatever little rice of the previous season is left with us,” said Asgar Ali of Muktarpur village. According to local estimates, some 5,000-7,000 people rendered homeless by floods have taken shelter in school buildings of Saora and Muktarpur.
“People are sharing whatever food they could gather before moving to the school shelters which are on higher grounds. No officials and ministers have not come or sent any relief,” said Mukhtarpur resident Sheikh Asgar Ali.
The entire lowland region of Saora-Nokunda-Mukhtarpur in Arambagh and Ghatal-Kharar region have been cut off by floods. “Some 30-40 villages in Ghatal-Kharar are inundated. People are reaching upland through makeshift boats. Still, no relief is reaching us,” lamented Shantanu Mondal, a resident of Harisinghpur village near Ghatal town.
Many of the affected villagers alleged that they heard some relief was sent to the panchayat offices but never saw them. “We heard that plastic sheets were sent to our village but have not seen any,” said 64-year-old Moidul Hussain of Nokunda village.
“Those most in need have not been given any relief. Many of the panchayat members have distributed relief material among their kin,” alleged another villager, Radhakanta Sikdar.
Though the incessant rains that lashed south Bengal districts for the last 72 hours subsided to a drizzle on Tuesday, worries are far from over. With heavy rains in neighbouring Jharkhand, Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) has released 33,000 cusecs of water from its barrages and dams on Monday and 18,000 cusecs more on Tuesday.
While chief minister Mamata Banerjee indirectly blamed the DVC for worsening the situation, state irrigation minister Rajib Banerjee said that DVC is releasing more water despite having the capacity to hold it. Sources in DVC said they are forced to open the floodgates fearing collapse of dams and barrages.
“The Maithon Dam, Durgapur barrage, Masanjore and Panchet Dams do not have great storage capacity. If the danger levels are crossed, DVC has to open the floodgates so that the dams and barrages don’t break down, which may lead to hundreds of deaths in South Bengal,” a senior DVC official told the New Indian Express.
As rains subsided, long queues were witnessed at gas centres and residents from upland area s were seen thronging markets for vegetables, rice and other essential commodities.