Languishing homeless and without food and water since last Monday, lakhs of people displaced in South 24 Parganas and North 24 Parganas by the devastating Aila cyclone are now trapped in a vortex of politics over distribution of relief and rehabilitation.
Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee and the state’s Left Front government are engaged in a duel on how central relief fund and materials should be distributed among the people.
At the end of the Cabinet meeting in New Delhi on Saturday, Mamata met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and insisted that the central aid should not be handed over to the Left Front Government but to the local bodies and the district magistrates for effective utilization of funds and relief material.
She informed the PM that in the past whenever such funds were allocated, the Marxist cadres siphoned it off.
She suggested that the Rajiv Gandhi formula of PM to DM should be implemented in this case.
The local bodies — panchayats — should be involved and made accountable to the Centre.
In Kolkata, state Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta warned the Centre against direct distribution of relief to Aila victims. “Such a step would be unconstitutional...,” he said.
Dasgupta said gram panchayats and municipalities are state subjects. Hence, the state cannot be bypassed.
After briefing the PM, Mamata met Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Defence Minister AK Antony and Home Minister P Chidambaram. “It is decided that central relief will soon be sent. Then an assessment team will go to review the situation,” she said.
At the meeting, Mamata alleged the state did not have the wherewithal to deal with the calamity, so the Centre should oversee disaster management. She alleged the CPI(M) was doing politics over distribution of relief. “This should be stopped. I want accountability in disaster management,” Mamata, who has opposed the state’s demand for Rs 1,000 crore from the Centre for relief, said.
Dasgupta said the state’s demand for the devastation to be declared a ‘national calamity’ and for Rs 1,000 crore from the ‘National Calamity Contingency Fund’ was justified.
Pleading that the state was in dire need of immediate funds, he said Rs 61 crore has so far been allocated from the state-level ‘calamity relief fund’ that is now left with Rs 210 crore. This fund would total Rs 450 crore in the current fiscal, while relief and reconstruction would cost more than Rs 1,500 crore, he stated.
To ensure the Centre isn’t dependant on state inputs alone, Mamata has sent her own team of ministers to some of the worst affected areas.
So, CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya has two things to deal with — Aila and Mamata. “We are doing whatever is possible. Central assistance would expedite relief work,” he said.