Bengal: Team Mamata gears up to face flood challenge

  • Ravik Bhattacharya, Hindustan Times, Kolkata
  • Updated: Jun 02, 2016 16:32 IST
The Bengal government could soon have to mobilise all resources to save lives and property as the Met department has predicted heavy rains in Bengal this monsoon. (PTI Photo)

More than the prospect of facing a united opposition in the House and elsewhere, it is the threat of floods brought on by bumper rains that is likely to pose a stiffer challenge for the Mamata Banerjee government as it begins a fresh spell at the hustings.

The Bengal government could soon have to mobilise all resources to save lives and property as the Met department has predicted heavy rains in Bengal this monsoon, risking floods in several parts of the state and putting lives and livelihood in danger. Acres and acres of crop land could also face ruin should rain wreak havoc.

Shaking off two years of despondency over a sluggish monsoon and festering agrarian distress claiming lives across rural India, the Met officials have forecast bumper rains this year.

While the country is likely to receive 106% rainfall, Bengal, too, appears set to tide over the 14% deficit in rains last year and witness a deluge. Though the rains last year weren’t evenly spread, parts of Bengal faced flood-like situation with around 37 lakh people across 12 districts affected.

With the state staring at a fresh spell of floods this monsoon, alarm bells were set off in the corridors of power just days after Mamata Banerjee took the oath of office for the second time. Alarmed over the forecast and keen to hit the ground running in a bid to limit the damage, the state government opened two flood control rooms — one in North Bengal and another in the south — on Wednesday. Two senior officials have been posted at the DVC (Damodar Valley Corporation) headquarters to monitor the situation and ensure that the government is forewarned on the release of water from the dams.

Once monsoon arrives in Bengal, top state mandarins are to meet every day at Nabanna and take stock on the government’s response to the crisis. The meeting, to be chaired by chief secretary Basudeb Bandopadhyay, will be convened at 10.30 in the morning. The state’s disaster management department has already dispatched teams and relief materials to districts that are likely to record heavy rains. The government is also keen to avoid allegations of political bias with regard to distribution of flood relief and ensure help reaches the marooned and distressed irrespective of their political leanings.

“We’re bracing for the nature’s fury this year. Since the elections went on for over a month, we’d little time to prepare. However, we’re working on a war-footing and are making all arrangements to mount a swift response. We’ve opened flood control rooms equipped with 24x7 helpline numbers,” state irrigation minister Rajib Banerjee said. While the flood control room for South Bengal has been opened in Kolkata, the one for North Bengal is situated in Siliguri.

Those assigned to monitor the situation at these control rooms would also be able to send real time updates through video conferencing and radio communication.

“The (disaster management) department started sending rescuers and relief materials to the districts from May. We’re focusing on areas that are at high risk of flooding. While disaster management groups have been stationed at several high-risk areas, boats and boatmen, too, have been sent. We’re ready to face the worst. As the monsoon sets in, a meeting will be chaired at Nabanna every day to plan our response,” Javed Ahmed Khan, the minister for disaster management, said.

The irrigation department has already identified 145 kilometres of river embankments and dams as vulnerable. Work to fortify these embankments and dams has already begun.

“Every year, the DVC releases excess water from dams triggering flood-like situation in several districts. This year, though, we’ve entered into a contract with the DVC and have set up a team to monitor the situation. We need to be forewarned on the release of water from dams, so that we could avoid a flood situation in vulnerable districts,” Banerjee said.

The department has already summoned amateur (HAM) radio operators along with representatives of Bharat Sevashram Sangha, St John Ambulance and the Indian Red Cross Society among others have to discuss disaster preparedness.

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