After the cyclone, the Sunderbans area is facing another round of flooding due to the high tides this weekend. But contractors, who repair the embankments, are refusing to work this time.
According to government estimates, Aila has damaged at least 400 km of embankments in the area.
The reason is non-payment of bills worth Rs 6 crore, pending since the last floods in the Sunderbans in 1995, although the Calcutta High Court directed the government to clear all pending bills two years ago.
Adding to the confusion, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee recently promised the contractors that they would be paid on the spot, while Sunderbans Affairs Minister Kanti Ganguly said payments would be made in seven days.
Hiranmoy Ghosh, secretary, Joynagar Contractors Association, said, “The dues of 200 contractors are held up and they are afraid of taking up fresh work as earlier dues have ruined many of them.”
Two contractors have committed suicide.
An embarrassed irrigation minister, Subhash Naskar, said, “We have reached an understanding that we will pay only the principal, and not the interest. The proposal is lying with the finance department.”
But Ghosh argued, “We are yet to receive even the agreed amount. And going by the previous experience, contractors are feeling cagey about taking up the assignment.”
In 1995, after the contractors repaired the embankments at Gosaba, Basanti, Canning and Kumeri in the Sunderbans, the government held back payments, accusing them of short-changing the irrigation department. The contractors then moved the court.