West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee was on Sunday gheraoed twice by relief seekers in the state's South 24 Parganas, the district worst-hit by cyclone Aila, even as the government prepared a memorandum seeking assistance of Rs 1,000 for submission to the Centre.
The chief minister went to Gosaba in the Sunderbans to see the extent of the disaster and distribution of relief materials. While he was discussing the situation with district officials, a number of villagers demonstrated against the slow and inadequate response of the administration to their misery. Kanti Ganguli, the minister in-charge of Sunderbans' development, has admitted that the situation in those areas is really grave.
Criticism came from different quarters, too. Mamata Banerjee, the newly elected Union Railway Minister and the main Opposition leader in West Bengal, has made a scathing attack on the state administration for failing to provide drinking water to thousands of villagers who have been water-logged for the last eight days. Acting as a head of the government in-waiting, Banerjee has directed her team of ministers to tour the cyclone devastated areas extensively and send her the reports.
"After getting all the inputs from my ministers, I will prepare a complete report and submit it to the district administration," she informed. Banerjee claimed that in Sandeshkhali, Hingalganj, Gosaba and some other worst affected areas, a number of people still don't have access to drinking water, baby food and other essential things.
The damages caused to the 400-km-long embankment in the area is of serious concern now. As the embankments have been breached in several places, saline water has flooded villages, destroying the paddy field and sources of potable water. With the high tide expected during the full moon on June 7, there is an urgent need to repair these embankments to avoid further disaster. But so far, little progress has been made in this regard.
A central team is expected to visit the affected areas shortly to assess the extent of damages. But Banerjee has cautioned against sending the fund to the state government, citing its poor track record of utilising funds for various central projects. Instead, she made a plea for sending the fund directly to the elected panchayat bodies in the affected areas. Incidentally, the panchayat administration in the worst affected district of South 24 Parganas is now under the control of the Trinamool Congress.