Cyclone Yaas: Amit Shah reviews prep, Mamata questions fund allocation
The ongoing tussle between West Bengal and the Centre continued on Monday after chief minister Mamata Banerjee accused the NDA government of allocating less funds to the state following a video conference with home minister Amit Shah to review preparedness for Cyclone Yaas.
In the meeting with the chief ministers of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Bengal and the Lieutenant Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Shah directed the states to make adequate power back-up arrangements in all Covid-19 hospitals, labs, vaccine cold chains and other medical facilities, said a statement issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Banerjee said at least 20 districts in West Bengal, including Kalimpong and Darjeeling in the north, could be affected even though three coastal districts – South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas and East Midnapore – along with Kolkata will be directly hit.
“They (the Centre) have announced an advance fund of ₹600 crore each to Andhra Pradesh and Odisha and a little more than ₹400 for West Bengal. I have questioned why Bengal was being deprived despite being a larger state with dense population. I asked Shah why this discrimination. He said that he would talk later and that allocation was based on scientific views,” Banerjee said.
The severe cyclone is expected to cross the Odisha-West Bengal coast, close to Balasore in Odisha, around Wednesday noon with wind speeds of 140-165 kmph gusting up to 185 kmph. On Monday, West Bengal and Odisha started evacuation of people living in coastal areas to cyclone shelters and government buildings. The evacuation is to be completed by Tuesday afternoon.
“Evacuation has already started and we plan to evacuate at least 10 lakh people. Around 4,000 cyclone and relief shelters have been set up. At least 51 rescue teams have been deployed. A 24x7 control room has been set up at the state secretariat which would coordinate up to the block level,” the chief minister said, adding that the army has been alerted.
The chief minister urged people to wear masks even at relief centres as Covid is taking a heavy toll in the state. On Sunday, the state recorded more than 18,000 new cases and 156 deaths.
“This time we have set up safe homes and quarantine centres where suspected patients and those detected with Covid after RAT could be shifted,” said a senior official of North 24 Parganas, associated with the evacuation process.
In May 2020 the state was hit by another very severe cyclone Amphan, killing 98 people and damaging property worth a few thousand of crores.
“Very severe cyclone Yaas is expected to cross the Odisha-West Bengal coast between Paradip and Sagar close to Balasore in Odisha on Wednesday noon. It would move towards Jharkhand,” said Sanjib Bandopadhyay, deputy director of the IMD’s (India Meteorological Department’s) regional office in Kolkata.
During the time of landfall, the cyclone is predicted to trigger wind speeds up to 155-165 kmph gusting up to 185 kmph in East Midnapore district, located along the West Bengal-Odisha border. In Kolkata, wind speeds may reach up to 70-80 kmph gusting up to 90 kmph.
IMD director general Mrutyunjay Mohapatra said the sea tide would be as high as 4-5 metres above the mean sea level during the period in the four districts of Balasore, Bhadrak, Kendrapara and Jagatsinghpur and some coastal districts of West Bengal. “These four districts will experience heavy to very heavy rainfall on May 26 with rains up to 300mm,” he said.
The Odisha government on Monday started a massive evacuation exercise in the coastal districts of Balasore, Bhadrak, Kendrapara and Jagatsinghpur with Covid-appropriate behaviour in place. Special relief commissioner Pradip Jena said district collectors would complete the evacuation by May 25 afternoon. “Zero casualty is the motto,” he said.
Jena said 10 senior IAS and IPS officers have been sent to the four coastal districts and Mayurbhanj to supervise relief, rehabilitation and restoration measures in the wake of the cyclone. In Balasore, where the cyclone is expected to pass through, district administration advised people to keep drinking water ready for at least four days. Those who are living under thatched houses have been advised to move to nearby cyclone centres.
The Centre has rushed 52 NDRF teams apart from 60 of the ODRAF and 200 fire tenders are being kept on high alert. Similarly, 165 teams from the public works department and 165 from the rural development department have been formed for cyclone management, officials said.
Odisha, which faced Cyclone Fani in May 2018 with speeds of up to 200 kmph, killing 64 people and affecting about 16.5 million people in over 18,000 villages, has a robust system to deal with such calamities. In 2018, Cyclone Titli killed 77 people, destroyed 260,000 hectares of agricultural land, over 60,000 houses, and killed more than 35,000 domestic animals. Between 1891 and 2021, over 100 tropical cyclones have lashed Odisha — the highest number among the states on the eastern coast.
Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy told Shah that the impact of the cyclone is expected in north-coastal Andhra Pradesh and a few other coastal districts. “The process of evacuation of people in the vulnerable areas had commenced in Srikakulam district, bordering Odisha. The process will be followed in other districts as well,” the chief minister said.
The CM asked officials of Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam to evacuate Covid-19 patients, if necessary, to safer hospitals. Effective measures should be taken to ensure that there are no power supply issues. Similarly, people from inland areas should be evacuated to safer places wherever necessary. All essentials, starting with supplies in relief camps, should be put in place, he said.
Because of the cyclone moderate to extreme rain is expected in the coastal districts of West Bengal, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh and parts of Jharkhand, Sikkim and Bihar. In Jharkhand, a red alert has been issued with a prediction of extreme rainfall and high-velocity winds at speeds of up to 130 kmph on May 26-27.
Deputy director at the IMD’s Randhi centre Abhishek Anand said, “Extreme rainfall is expected in some places such as East Singhbhum, West Singhbhum, Saraikela-Kharswan and Simdega district, on May 26.” He added the central part of Jharkhand, which comprises Ranchi, Bokaro, Gumla, Hazaribag, Khunti and Ramgarh, is likely to experience heavy to very heavy rainfall on Wednesday. “Hospitals have been asked to keep power back-up and oxygen storage at least for two days,” said a senior health official.