ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Floods : Water Wheels

Water Wheels North Bengal has been virtually cut off from the rest of the state by heavy rains and extensive flooding. Vast areas of Birbhum and Murshidabad are under more than six feet of water. While the official death toll is 40, the unofficial and probably the more realistic figure is some eight times more. And nobody is talking about how many thousands have been rendered homeless. With the Ganga rising rapidly in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh all the rivers in Nadia district are in spate, with the Bhagirathi flowing more than 2.5 m over the extreme danger mark in Nabadwip. At a conservative estimate some 6 million people have been affected. And now with the water level in the Hooghly up by over two metres and a high tide, large parts of Calcutta are under water.

North Bengal has been virtually cut off from the rest of the state by heavy rains and extensive flooding. Vast areas of Birbhum and Murshidabad are under more than six feet of water. While the official death toll is 40, the unofficial and probably the more realistic figure is some eight times more. And nobody is talking about how many thousands have been rendered homeless. With the Ganga rising rapidly in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh all the rivers in Nadia district are in spate, with the Bhagirathi flowing more than 2.5 m over the extreme danger mark in Nabadwip. At a conservative estimate some 6 million people have been affected. And now with the water level in the Hooghly up by over two metres and a high tide, large parts of Calcutta are under water.

The torrential rains, not seen in many years, have caused unbelievable havoc; but the continuing misery of those affected and the complete absence of a systematic response to such disasters can hardly be condoned. Bengal is a land of rivers and its economy no less than its culture and tradition and its social organisation is closely linked to its rivers. And rivers are not known to be either entirely peaceable or unremittingly destructive. In such regions, for instance, thousands of people every year lose their livelihoods dependent on river irrigation because the same rivers in spate regularly change course and inundate their land, dispossessing them permanently. Floods, even if they are not as devastating as this season’s, do occur at least once a year. That West Bengal has no credible, viable and comprehensive plan of action for times of crisis is not just surprising but shows a degree of unconcern for the thousands living off the land. In the immediate situation, the state government appears to have been excruciatingly slow in arranging for food and other relief measures. There have been food riots, with people attacking policemen for inordinate delays in the distribution of food packets; foodgrain godowns and shops have been looted. While there is the usual attempt by local political units of major parties to target administrations controlled by political adversaries, many incidents suggest that there is definitely a break-down of the distribution of relief measures, the quantum of which is also insufficient.

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