The Deluge 2000: Part 2

- Devastating Floods of West Bengal

Continued from Previous Page

Search & Rescue Operations


33. In Tehatta-1 Block approximately 5000 houses comprising 18000 families were affected on 19.9.2000 and most of them had been provided shelter in different primary schools. On 20.9.2000, the flood victims started squatting on NH-34 and other available high lands and school buildings. 4 out of 11 GPs of the Block were submerged and no high land could be found to provide shelter.

34. The SDO Ranaghat requisitioned CD officials who immediately swung into rescue operations with their speed boats, which were used throughout the crisis period. 7660 families had to be shifted in Ranaghat. 78 Relief Camps were opened. On 20.9.2000, water level was 30 feet at Nilnagar Mouza under Santipur P.S. and rescue operations had to be continued with speed boats and mechanized boats. The affected people of other areas had been shifted to safer places. Four trawlers had been obtained from Balagarh in Hooghly District. SDO Ranaghat took ill and his Second Officer kept commanding the relief operations.

35. On 21.9.2000 the day doctors of Asannagar hospital (Krishnanagar Block) requested the District Control to rescue them as the hospital building and its instruments were under waist-deep water and the marooned people had to be rescued. Ranaghat Subdivision asked for army boats as Relief Camps and shelters that were set up went under water as more and more water entered the area. There was agitation in the SDO Ranaghat’s office for relief materials. The mental condition of the SDO deteriorated further.  I advised the DM, Vivek Bharadwaj, to request the Chief Secretary for the services of P.K. Pradhan, Principal Secretary (and ex-DM of Nadia), R.P. Samaddar, Joint Secretrary (and ex-SDO Ranaghat) and Kartick Chandra Mandal (ex-BDO Ranaghat-I) all of the Municipal Affairs Department, to tackle the situation in Ranaghat subdivision. They were deployed accordingly and took over the work of relief management in the subdivision from 22nd September onwards. Besides them, a team of officials was sent by the DM South 24 Parganas, A. Bandopadhyay, at my instance to augment the scarce manpower situation in Ranaghat. However, they were not of much use as many of them were malingerers.  Three teams consisting of one Inspector, two Sub-Inspectors and 25 officials of other ranks were deployed under the BDO, Ranaghat-1 since 22.9.2000 for rescue operations and distribution of food.

36. Krishnanagar-1 Block and Municipality also asked for boats. But their needs could not be met despite the best attempts of the District authority. Tarpaulin shelters were arranged at Krishnanagar Government College ground and Bipradas Pal Chowdhury College to house the affected people of Krishnanagar town. But hardly anybody went there to stay. People preferred to stay near their houses on whatever highland available or near the Krishnanagar-1 block office.

37. Two large boats provided by the Surface Transport Directorate were placed at Balagarh on 23.9.2000 for rescue operations. The ASI, Ranaghat P.S. seized 3 boats from Dhantala and sent them to Ranaghat for rescue work.

38. On 24.9.2000 flood shelters in Kalyani town area were getting flooded and the people had to be shifted to other buildings. One trawler was used for rescue operations in Kalyani Central Park. Relief materials had reached the municipality and 41,000 people had been sheltered in Kalyani Sub-division. The entire Chapra Block was inundated by flood water. Families of Block officials were shifted to the Panchayat Samiti building. Neither food nor drinking water was available. People were rescued by speed boats or by the military. A rescue boat had capsized at Nagendranagar near Nabhadham in Krishnanagar. Another rescue boat was sent immediately to tackle the situation. Two teams of 10 personnel under one Inspector were deployed for rescue operations in Kaliganj since 22nd September. Three teams were kept for rescue at Krishnanagar.  DM Nadia personally rescued many people in Krishnanagar town using an army boat. 

39. On 25th September, one launch was sent from Kolkata for rescue operation at ISKCON campus in Mayapur. About 50,000 men and livestock were stranded at Dakshinpara of Hanskhali Block. The rescue operation was delayed for want of speed boats/launches and failure of communication network.

40. In Krishnanagar I took considerable pressure off the DM, so that he could concentrate on rescue and relief measures, by meeting the political parties who frequently turned up in strength to press demands. As I had been posted as Additional DM in Nadia for a couple of years in 1975-77, most of the political leaders knew me. When they saw me present in the DM’s office chamber, the decibel level of their voices dropped and they quickly took leave saying that since the Commissioner was familiar with the district, they were sure matters would be well taken care of. After several such encounters the DM developed a feeling that the Commissioner had taken over the running of the relief measures and frankly conveyed this to me. Thereafter I withdrew from meeting the deputationists and restricted myself to going round the town to check on how the waters were receding and whether the markets were limping back to normalcy. After the Finance Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister visited Krishnanagar, the former told me that I was needed to coordinate relief supplies from South 24 Parganas and Howrah to the flood-affected districts and should, therefore, return to Calcutta. As road communications were still not restored, I returned by helicopter. I arranged for supply of “hogla” (reeds, used for making temporary shelters) from Howrah (Sunil Gupta was the DM), of Sal poles from Midnapur and Birbhum and manpower, launches and material from South 24 Parganas.


41. In Murshidabad District, where I had been DM in 1983-84, similar search and rescue operations continued from 19 to 25.9.2000 in the entire district covering 26 Blocks and 7 Municipalities. Vivek Kumar, the DM who had just joined the district on 6.9.2000 was yet to bring his family and belongings. So he got his leave sanctioned from me on 17th September for the purpose. The next morning, with his vehicle ready for departure for Kolkata and with my permission to leave headquarters in his pocket, the DM sat in his residence office as it began pouring cats and dogs from early morning. His intuition told him not to leave headquarters. Seeing the weather, the DM abandoned the Kolkata journey and concentrated on search and rescue works.

42. In the situation that developed, the first casualty was electricity. As water rose precariously in the entire district, electricity poles fell, snapping electricity and where they still stood, electricity had to be switched off as a precautionary measure. With load shedding, the telephone lines too snapped. So, the DM could not even inform the State Secretariat about the worsening situation. I, as the Commissioner of Presidency Division, was asked by Manish Gupta, the Chief Secretary in the middle of a meeting I was taking in Barasat (headquarters of North 24 Parganas district) to rush to Murshidabad and camp there to guide the fledgling DM in tiding over the floods. The flood situation had turned so grim that Icould not reach Murshidabad as major parts of the National Highway had got washed away beyond Plassey.

43. Large numbers of people took shelter on trees. They were later shifted to safer places by boats. Most of them were reluctant and preferred to stay near their own houses in order to be closer to their belongings hoping to recover them early. Machans were made on the trees. Thousands of displaced flood victims took shelter on the high roads, railway tracks and safe school and college buildings.

44. More than forty lakh people got displaced from their habitation. The rescue and relief shelters in high land areas were inadequate to accommodate such a large population. People got stranded for 5-6 days with government aid reaching slowly. Some survived by sharing and some with hunger and desperation. The saucer shaped basin of Hijole was under water for about a couple of months. People had to survive on whatever Government aid could reach the place.

North 24 Parganas

45. Due to the saucer shaped low pockets and flat nature of land in the district of North 24-Parganas, it took much time for flood water to recede from the affected areas. Considering the acute situation prevailing in the district, extensive measures were undertaken to cope with the catastrophic flood.

46. A good number of “bheris” [large shallow water bodies for pisciculture] and encroachments like brick-fields were removed in Bongaon, Bagdah, Gaighata, Habra-2, Deganga, Baduria, Swarupnagar and Basirhat-1 Blocks during October and November 2000 and obstructions were removed to drain out the accumulated water. 27 government boats, 152 country boats and a good number of mechanised boats and launches were deployed in flood affected areas for rescue and relief operations.162 NGOs played an effective role in relief operations in addition to the panchayats and government machinery.

47. Search and Rescue work was a big challenge under such situation because:

  • The flood was rapid and from all directions, not only from the river but also from agricultural fields. The breach along embankment was sudden.
  • The onset was at night in many areas, thereby being more devastating and destructive.
  • There was no warning. The meteorological reports, water release reports etc were neither adequate nor timely enough for proper forewarning.
  • Excessive rain in a short duration and instantaneous run-off from the river channel led to inundation and flooding.
  • The community was not prepared to tackle such a situation because of the suddenness of the disaster and lack of proper planning.

Relief & Rehabilitation Measures


48. There was demand for foodgrains from all corners, but the district did not have enough stock. I recalled from his tenure as ADM here in 1975-77 that there was a FCI (Food Corporation of India) godown at Bhatjangla. As advised by me, the district administration requisitioned the stocks on 20.9.2000 and despatched 967 MT of rice to the affected Blocks before the roads got cut-off. However, Kaliganj Block, where the river water had entered first, remained unapproachable. The Kalyani FCI godown was also requisitioned and the available foodgrains used for relief purpose.

49. On 20.9.2000, Tehatta and adjoining submerged areas required dry food and food grains. Two trucks carrying relief material bound for Murshidabad could not reach because the road condition was very bad. Out of seven trucks bound for Krishnagar only two trucks had reached carrying relief materials.

50. The BDO, Krishnanagar–1 had kept 5 MT of special GR [gratuitous relief] rice which he distributed among the flood victims with the help of the Panchayat Samiti and Gram Panchayats. While no allotment of relief materials was coming from the district, he held a meeting with the Sabhapati and the Karmadhyakshas of the Sthayee Samities and proposed to use the Mid-day Meal rice in stock for relief purpose and to replace it as and when foodgrains were allotted by the district. At his behest it was also decided to purchase dry food and build temporary shelters by local arrangement, the payment for which would be made from the Panchayat Samiti’s own fund if the district failed to allot sufficient fund. The BDO lifted 10 MT chira (parched rice) and 2 MT gur (molasses) from a wholesaler and distributed to the flood victims. He also contacted a local bakery and persuaded the owner to supply bread for at least two days on condition that payment would be possible only if the district allotted fund. Thousands of flood victims had taken shelter in and around the office campus. With the help of Dr. M.N. Roy, Secretary, St. John’s Ambulance, he started a gruel kitchen at the block office from 23rd September. Everyday about 5000 flood victims were served cooked food. So, while there was unrest all over the district, relief work continued in the block smoothly. Allotments of food grains and other relief materials started coming from the next day and the food crisis got averted.

51. The Additional DM (General) Nadia took two trucks loaded with chira and proceeded to Nakashipara on 21st September at grave personal risk. The district administration even tried to approach the Krishnagar–Karimpur Road by tractor, but failed. On 22.9.2000, four trucks carrying tarpaulins bound for Krishnanagar from Kolkata could not move beyond Jatrapur in Hanskhali Block due to water-logging.

52. The Secretary, Indian Red Cross Society, distributed chira & gur to 530 families in Krishnanagar town. Ramkrishna Mission, Belghoria of North 24 Parganas District, performed relief work in Chakdah. NGOs like Sathi Club, Stationpara (Krishnagar) arranged to feed about 400 to 450 people and kept in touch with the district administration to provide them with relief materials in order to enable them to serve the flood affected people.

53. On 24.9.2000, arrangement was made for dropping of food packets at Seemanagar (sector hqs of the BSF), Maluapara and Kadipur for marooned BSF personnel. On 26.9.2000, air dropping of dry food was arranged in Ranaghat-1 Block at Habibpur Hospital Ground, Parkamgachi Primary School, Noapara G.P Office, Kalinarayanpur Railway Station. In case of Ranaghat-2, the air-dropping points were Aranghata Railway Station, Bankimnagar Railway Station, Halalpur Rly Line, Dhantala Bazar, Panikhali More and Hazaripur. The helicopter sorties continued till 29th September covering Krishnanagar-2, Nabadwip, Krishnaganj, Santipur, Ranaghat, Hanskhali Blocks, Birnagar town etc. The Lion’s Club International informed that they had helped 162 beneficiaries at Singhdarja and 251 beneficiaries on 25.9.2000 near Judge’s Court, Krishnanagar. 48 MT of Mid-day Meal rice was distributed to affected people by Nakashipara Block Office. On 25.9.2000 relief articles were reported to have reached Krishnagar-2 Block and had been distributed to all GPs and rescue centres.

54. On 26th September, three launches had sailed from the confluence of the Churni river for Krishnanagar. Six launches from Jagaddal in North 24 Parganas sailed for Krishnanagar, namely M.V. Karunamayee for Debagram, M.V. Dui Bhai for Krishnanagar (carrying food stuff), M.V. Dolphin for Santipur (carrying food stuff), M.V. Manindra for Hanskhali (carrying food stuff), M.V. Viswajayanti  for Krishnanagar (carrying medicines) and M.V. Anuradha for Debagram (carrying food stuff).

55. On 5.10.2000, the water level of Bhagirathi was 9.50 m at Swarupganj and of Churni was 9.60 m at Hanskhali. The entire district administration was then totally engaged in relief operations. On 9.10.2000, ten trucks of hogla [for making temporary shelters] came from Howrah. The Puja holidays stood cancelled. The service to the flood-ravaged virtually became the worship of the Goddess.


56. As Murshidabad lost physical and telephonic contact with the outside world, food and civil supplies became the first concern of the district administration. There was a godown of FCI at Khagda Bazar but that was locked and the District Manager FCI was away in Kolkata. There was no way he could return, except by helicopter. The DM had to decide whether he should break open the godown that housed more than 9,000 MT of rice and wheat. As public pressure mounted and as more and more ration shops began to go underwater, he took the decision to have the godown’s lock broken and inventorised the entire quantity of the foodstuff available. He also requisitioned the BSF for round-the-clock vigil over the only repository of food in the district.

57. Drinking water soon became scarce. With electricity gone for several days, the pumps of the Public Health Department had not pumped water into the overhead tanks. Despite so much water all round, the people were thirsty. The DM turned to the Bhagirathi Milk Union and its milk packaging unit was put to ingenious use by filling potable water in plastic pouches. The people of Berhampore town were given milk pouches containing water. The public did not mind.

58. With the telephone system snapping completely, there was a complete information blackout. The situation was worsened by a national strike call given by BSNL engineers. While it continued to rain blindingly, there was no more information coming in from any quarter about the water discharge form the Farakka barrage, the Messanjore dam or the Tilpara barrage. The only communication was through police wireless. The Station Director, All India Radio, Berhampore Radio Station, allotted five minutes on each day to the District Magistrate Murshidabad to address the people of the district regarding rescue and relief measures undertaken.

59. As one colony after another started to go under water, news was received that Farakka barrage authorities had decided to release huge quantities of water into Bangladesh. The DM knew that rivers did not respect national boundaries and the discharge would flow south into the district besides from Tilpara barrage from the West and Farakka barrage from the North! The DM ordered the SDPO Jangipur to tell the General Manager to desist from doing what he proposed or else he would be taken into custody. The desperate threat had the intended effect. The Farakka barrage authority decided that discretion was the better part of valour. In the process, hundreds of lives were saved in Suti I & II and Shamsherganj Blocks.

60. Supply of LPG and Kerosene was cut off to the District during the flood. Two LPG loaded trucks on their way to Siliguri were stranded outside the town. Those were promptly requisitioned and six hundred odd LPG cylinders were then rationed from the Collectorate. Priority was given to the NGOs who were running community kitchens in relief camps. Those NGOs were allotted rice, wheat, pulses and LPG/kerosene by the district administration free of cost.

61. After day six of the floods, it was time to coordinate the relief and reconstruction phase. Each day a coordination meeting was held with the departmental officials, NGOs and others to take stock of the situation and to chalk out strategy for the following days. The district Minister also attended the meetings. With the worst over, it was time for the dignitaries and senior officials to arrive to take stock of the situation and assist in the reconstruction effort.

North 24 Parganas

62. Extensive relief measures were undertaken in the district of North 24 Parganas.  3564 rescue camps were set up at various places all over the district in which 4, 44,699 people took shelter. Dry food like chira & gur and cooked food were distributed to the flood victims. Baby food, purchased from Ichhamati Milk Federation, was distributed in the relief camps for the children from time to time. During the entire flood period, 22,400 MT of rice was distributed among the people. The Food & Supplies Department and the Food Corporation of India failed to supply such huge quantities of foodgrains within a short period. The matter was discussed at all levels and purchase was made from the open market observing necessary formalities of the tender rules. The rate of the rice of the Food & Supplies Department was Rs 11.90 per kg and allotment of fund was made by the Government accordingly but it could be purchased from the open market @ Rs 10.50 per kg with the approval of the state government although the quality of rice was not compromised. Such action also saved public funds.

63. Bongaon and Bagdah Blocks could not be accessed from the district. The relief operation there had to be organised via Nadia District at Bibhutighat on the river Ichhamati. Hogla and Sal poles were distributed to flood victims for rehabilitating them. The Sal poles were procured from Bankura, Birbhum and Midnapore by deputing Deputy Magistrates.

House Building Grant (H.B. Grant) distribution:

64. Millions of houses had got damaged or destroyed in the affected districts. Enquiring all the cases and distributing HB Grant was an uphill task for the BDOs in rural areas and SDOs in the urban areas. A joint inspecting team first conducted the enquiry and a beneficiary list was prepared. This list was hung up in the GP and BDO offices for three days to obtain claims and objections. Those claims and objections were disposed of by the SDO/ BDO as the case might be and final list was prepared in the prescribed form. The number of beneficiaries being huge, the distribution was done in a staggered manner under police security. The whole process took at least three months’ time. Normal development works could not be done during this period because the task was huge and there were numerous complaints. Those whose houses were fully damaged got two thousand rupees each while others whose houses were damaged partly got rupees one thousand each.

65. A brief statement of relief measures undertaken in the three districts is as follows:

Sl. Items Nadia Murshidabad North 24 Parganas
1. House Building Grant Rs 4155.70 lakh Rs 5000.00 lakh Rs. 3373.37 lakh
2 Ex-Gratia Grant Rs   161.70 lakh   Rs. 3.29 lakh
3. Special G.R ( Rice) 13,960 MT   22,400 MT
4 Flood Contingency 284.91 lakh 500.00 lakh  
5. Poly  Tarpaulins 1,26,119 Nos. 1,80,000 Nos. 2,66,936 Nos.
6 Clothings 3,52,100 Nos.   1,12,168 Nos.
7 Children Garments     65,415 Nos.
8 Blankets 3,24,145 Nos.   1,77,930 Nos.
9 Hogla 74,388 Nos.   40,890 Nos.
10 Lungi     15,150 Nos.
11 Sal Poles     1,93,959 Nos.

Continued to Next Page


More by :  Dr. Pradip Bhattacharya

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