The Deluge 2000: Part 3 - Devastating Floods of West Bengal by Pradip Bhattacharya SignUp
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The Deluge 2000: Part 3
- Devastating Floods of West Bengal
by Dr. Pradip Bhattacharya Bookmark and Share

Continued from Previous Page

Assistance of Army and Air Force

Nadia:

66. On 20.9.2000, the submerged areas of Kaliganj Block required the assistance of Military and Paramilitary Forces and even air dropping was felt necessary. The 15th Rajput led by a Major reported on 22 September with two boats. It was directed to proceed towards Kaliganj. However, they could not proceed beyond Dhubulia on the first day. They later helped the civil administration in Nakashipara and Kaliganj Blocks. Another column led by a Lieutenant also reported on 22 September late at night with three boats. They were asked to cover Nabadwip, but were not very effective. One of the boats was deployed within Krishnagar town for rescue operations in view of the influx and rise of water. More than 500 people were rescued by them in the town. Another column of 9th Engineering Regiment was deployed for rescue and relief operation under Ranaghat-1 and Santipur Blocks under the leadership of a Colonel. The Army was also deployed in Kalyani Sub-division. The biggest contribution of the Army was the construction of a Bailey Bridge at Paglachandi on NH 34, which restored the road link to Berhampore. I instructed the ADM (Development) to requisition the petrol pumps for keeping reserve stock of petrol and diesel and also for filling army vehicles.

67. Air dropping of foodstuff was started by the Air Force from 23 September. On the first day, Tehatta-2, Kaliganj and Nabadwip Blocks were covered and subsequently Nakashipara, Tehatta-1, Chapra, Hanskhali, Ranaghat-1 and 2, Karimpur-2, Santipur, Krishnanagar-1 and 2 were covered. However, all the BDOs had not been informed about the plan of air droppings. BDO Krishnanagar–1 came to know only after local people came with an air-dropped bag. It contained food items, life saving medicines and even snake anti-venom. Most bags were carried away by the local people. The BDO feared that it would be disastrous if the people, most of whom were illiterates, consumed the medicines without consulting a doctor or paramedic. So, he sent his teams to trace the bags in the villages where airdropping was done, but not much success could be achieved. Airdropping was very effective in Nakashipara and Kaliganj. Since most of the Blocks could be reached from 27 September, the intensity of air dropping was reduced and subsequently stopped by 30.9.2000.

68. I asked the DRC to contact the Commandant of the local SSB (Seema Suraksha Bal) Unit, who had contacted me volunteering for rescue work.  They were accordingly requested and were of great help in rescuing and feeding people.  The SSB informed that from 22 September, 3 teams of one inspector, 2 S.I.s and 25 officials of other ranks were deployed under the BDO Ranaghat-1 and two teams of 10 personnel under one Inspector in Kaliganj for rescue operations and distribution of food.  Three teams were kept for rescue at Krishnanagar.  Three Medical Teams were also kept at Krishnanagar.

Murshidabad

69. The army was requisitioned by the State Government, five days after the deluge started. While the army officers got rooms in the Youth Hostel, the Jawans had to make room in the corridors. After identifying the worst affected spots, the Army made efforts to get there. However, not much headway could be made, as the army trucks were not able to reach beyond three kms from the district headquarters. Trying to reach marooned persons twenty kms away by boat was dangerous as the water current was too fast for the small speedboats of the army. Another problem encountered was communication. Most of the army personnel did not know the local language, so interpreters had to be found, along with wireless sets. Further, the army units could not be used more intensively as their operations had to be conducted in teams; their teams could not be broken up beyond a certain minimum. However, the army teams finally did manage to reach the worst affected areas on the third and fourth days and eventually rendered sterling service in saving lives and reaching essential supplies.

70. News came over the police wireless that the State Government had also requisitioned the air force helicopters stationed at Panagarh airbase in the adjacent Bardhaman district. The ADM Bardhaman wanted to know the latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates of the worst affected areas for dropping supplies. Where were they to be found? Vivek Kumar, the DM, sat in candlelight in the Control Room poring over maps, putting to use the geography lessons learnt in class 11 and marking out the map coordinates of the worst affected areas. It was a pretty accurate assessment, it turned out: every aerial drop—it was later learnt—had fallen right into the most affected areas.

North 24 Parganas:

71. In the district of North 24-Parganas the Army played an effective role in rescue and relief operations. Five columns were deployed in Bongaon and Bagdah. They used Boat Assault Universal Type (BAUT) for relief operation. Each BAUT could carry 400 to 500 Kg of materials apart from army personnel.

72. From 28.9.2000 to 5.10.2000, the units of 12 Mahar, 18 Mahar, 199 Field Unit and 235 IWT and 11 Garhwal carried out rescue operations in Bagdah and Bongaon areas. One army doctor with 12 Mahar Unit and Medical Officers deputed by Assistant Chief Medical Officer of Health (ACMOH) Bongaon accompanied these units. The army unit reported to Gaighata Block on 29.9.2000 with three boats. 51 Jawans were deployed in the area for rescue and relief works.

73. In Basirhat Sub-division, the Army columns were deployed at different points of Bithari, Hakimpur, Saguna, Balti Nityanandakati, Swarupnagar-Banglani Gram Panchayats under Swarupnagar Block from 3 to 7 October with four speed boats for rescue and relief operations. One BSF speed boat was deployed from 29.9.2000 to 10.10.2000. Besides, 29 mechanized boats were also deployed at various points. The Army with three speed boats and the BSF with three boats and 4 four mechanized boats operated at Chatra, Chandipur, Ramchandrapur, Aturia, Nayabastia from 1 to 6.10.2000.

Participation of Line Departments

74. On 19.9.2000, the Executive Engineer, I & W [Irrigation & Waterways], Nadia alerted the DM about the rising water level at Swarupganj and Prachin Mayapur. He arranged for gunny bags on 20.9.2000 to protect the breach in Gokhurapota Bundh under Chapra P.S. He regularly kept the district office informed about the position of river water level at different Gauge Reading Stations. On 21.9.2000, he informed about the overflowing condition of the Bhagirathi and Churni rivers. Thereafter, communications broke down due to power failure and not much information could be received from him. The District Manager, Telecom, informed that there was no electricity in the Telephone Exchange under Santipur Division. Diesel was about to be exhausted and in that case Ranaghat and Santipur Exchanges would become defunct as the generator would become non-functional. Nothing could be done about it, as the flood water was flowing above the danger mark and the transformer was submerged. At Krishnaganj Block its RT set and telephone ceased to function on 21.9.2000.

75. BMOH (Block Medical Officer of Health) Kaliganj sought for emergency medicines for flood victims on 20.9.2000. Three medical teams were engaged in service at Krishnanagar. One team was engaged for Veterinary purpose near Krishnanagar Rajbari area on 26.9.2000. Several search medical teams worked in the entire district. The launch Jayantimata reached Nabadwip with medicines on 28.9.2000 and could not move beyond the railway bridge over Jalangi   to Kadamtalaghat as the bridge obstructed her mast. The SDO (Sadar) requisitioned a few country boats and medicines were unloaded from the launch on to those boats which were also used to carry drinking water for the crew. On 28.9.2000, the Assistant Engineer, PHE (Public Health Engineering) equipped with tubewell materials at Kadamtala Ferryghat, went to Tehata-1 Block with the Minister of State, Land & Land Reforms Dept.

76. The Divisional Engineer WBSEB (electricity board) played a significant role in restoring the discontinued power supply by re-routing and modifying the lines. Power was restored to the Telephone Exchange to revive the telephone communication system. Trunk Lines were extremely difficult to get through. The DE WBSEB on 29.9.2000 got two transformers of Dignagar Bazar functioning. The work for restoring power to resume water supply through PHE Department to Fulia-Santipur line was in progress. They arranged for restoration of power to four PHE Stations and a hospital by extending power from Fulia. The Municipality was able to restart their water supply system. The power supply to Kalyani Sub-division was also restored by WBSEB and the Municipality was able to maintain water supply.

77. On 30.9.2000, the CMOH Nadia supplied Halogen tablets and bleaching powder for flood victims at the shelter in Santipur P.S Campus. River water started receding and on 1.10.2000 buses plied between Krishnagar and Santipur/Nabadwip Rail gate/Panighata/ Debagram. Train services resumed from Sealdah in Calcutta on 4.10.2000. During the crisis period, there were visits to the district by the Deputy Chief Minister, the Finance Minister, the Panchayat & Rural Development Minister, the Higher Education Minister, the Relief Minister and the Municipal Affairs Minister. The School Education Minister camped at Krishnanagar for three days and the Minsiter of State, L & LR Department moved to the flood affected areas in Tehatta Sub-Division. P.K. Pradhan, Principal Secretary, Department of Municipal Affairs (ex-DM Nadia) and R.P. Samaddar, Director of Local Bodies (ex-SDO Ranaghat) camped at Ranaghat for nearly ten days and monitored the relief operations in Ranaghat and Kalyani Sub-Divisions as both of these places were cut off from the District Headquarters till 1.10.2000 and the SDO had a nervous breakdown. At my behest, the DM South 24 Parganas sent a team of officers and a launch to Ranaghat to help continue relief operations uninterruptedly.

78. In North 24 Parganas, arrangement for supply of water, sinking and re-sinking of tube wells, raising of platform of tubewells in the flood affected areas was done by the PHE Department. The Health Department was so alert that not a single flood victim died in the district due to any water borne diseases. Standing crops in vast areas of 652 mouzas were damaged. As soon as the flood water receded, the Agriculture Department distributed seed mini-kits among the affected farmers. The officials of Animal Resource Development Department also worked effectively to prevent any cattle disease.

Tapping Civil Society

79. In Murshidabad a delegation of the Citizens Forum complained about black-marketing by some unscrupulous businessmen. The DM requested them to help by drafting a strict warning in Bengali, which could be broadcast over loudspeakers. They felt elated. Not only did they draft the entire announcement, they even volunteered their services for announcing it over loudspeakers throughout the town during the following week. The DM also appealed to the public over the radio, to be vigilant against black-marketeers and turn in any trader who sought to take advantage of the situation. He also got assistance from the Cooperatives running cold storages to offload their entire stocks into the market, as district was cut off from the rest of the state. The result: potato and onions were available at prices lower than those before the floods. There was no black-marketing in Murshidabad during the worst floods in its history. Also, there were no food riots. Many NGOs helped by running community kitchens in relief camps. The ration was supplied by the DM.

Law and Order Maintenance

80. In Nadia District police posting was required at Kaliganj Block Office on 19.9.2000 when the office was partly immersed. The Officer-in-Charge (OC), Nakashipara P.S. was gheraoed by an irate mob seeking protection from theft of their valuable belongings and against other illegal activities by unscrupulous persons. Police had to ensure that miscreants did not interrupt the flood protection measures taken by Irrigation & Waterways and movements of relief articles.  Many block offices were attacked by irate mobs and relief articles were looted.

81. Hoarding was kept in check by daily visits of the SDPO and DySP (HQ).  Enforcement Branch officials were deployed and surprise visits of the SDOs were made to keep the prices of essential commodities checked till the situation turned normal.

82. Due to the extremely grave nature of the calamity and also because for several days people had nothing to eat and no water to drink, the law order situation of the district had been affected. There were reports that public offices were being attacked and godowns were being looted. There had also been incidents at Debagram on 24th and at Krishnanagar on 28th September 2000 where the police had to fire in the air to disperse the rampaging mob.

83. In Krishnagar-1 Block, on 24th September news came that local people had looted relief materials at Ruipukur GP. The BDO personally went to the spot with police escort. Soon a big mob gathered. When the BDO asked them why they were creating unrest, they complained that the GP authority was discriminating in relief distribution. The supporters of other parties were not being given enough relief. When the BDO enquired about this, the Pradhan was unable to give any satisfactory reply. He also came to know that the materials were actually hidden by the people and not looted. So he first asked the people to recover the looted relief materials within 30 minutes and then sit for a discussion. When all the materials came back within 10 minutes, he held a meeting with the Pradhan, GP Members and representatives of the dissatisfied people. He ensured that proper distribution of relief be done involving representatives of all parties to maintain transparency.

84. On 28th September a local leader ‘Thanda’ had been arrested by the Police in Krishnagar–1 Block on the basis of a complaint lodged by a Pradhan of a GP and the Sabhapati of the Panchayat Samiti. This was not known to the BDO who was extremely busy with relief work and passed seven sleepless nights, not even getting enough time to have his food. Thanda had become very popular among the people as he had worked day and night in the floods and saved many lives. Soon a mob gheraoed the BDO and the Sabhapati. They demanded the release of the person. The BDO explained that he had nothing to do with the arrest of Thanda. But the mob was adamant. They said, “Since he had been arrested from your office campus you have to take responsibility and ensure his release.” The DM had deputed a senior Deputy Magistrate in every flood affected Block to aid and advise the BDO and look after the law & order situation. The magistrate who was deputed for Krishnagar–1 was seated beside the BDO. However, he silently left the campus in this melee before the BDO could realise this. The BDO tried to contact the SDO but he was not available. So he rang up the DySP (HQ) and apprised him of the situation and requested him to take necessary action immediately. He also requested the DySP to release the person with a warning, if possible, because the mob was becoming violent. Instead, the DySP sent a police force under the leadership of the Inspector-in-Charge (IC), Kotwali PS.

 

85. Seeing the police without Thanda, the mob started rampaging. They also manhandled the Sabhapati. The police ran for life into the office building, locking the collapsible gate behind them. The mob ransacked the campus, destroyed the garden, the gruel kitchen, damaged vehicles and everything that caught their sight. The BDO sent many SOS to the District Control Room. He talked to the ADM (G) also requesting him to do something, but no help came through from the district headquarters located less than 2 km away although the mob kept rampaging for more than an hour. The IC was at his wits’ end. The mob was about to set the block office on fire. The BDO telephoned his wife and told her about his situation. He told her to pray to the Almighty. Then he rang up the district control again. This time he took courage to tell the ADM to hand over the phone to the DM. He informed the DM about the developments and requested him to do something before it was too late. The mob once again became violent. Finding no way out, the BDO ordered the police to fire. The police fired a few rounds in the air and the mob dispersed. Soon the DM and the SP arrived with a large contingent of police force and two fire tenders. By that time the mob had fled. The BDO was totally dejected and so were his staff. He asked to himself, “Are these humans to save whom I and my people are working round the clock?” The DM took the BDO with him to me in the Circuit House. A few caring words from me recharged the BDO. He resumed the relief work from next morning again.

86. The entire Nabadwip Block and the Nabadwip Municipality were inundated. These offices were temporarily shifted to the District Headquarters due to apprehension of breach of peace. Police protection was arranged at the time of dispatching the relief materials. Two markets in Krishnaganj   were looted.

87. In Murshidabad district, dacoits from Beldanga used to come in motorised fishing boats and vandalize the households. Police had to be on strict vigil to check all such activities. The Civil Officers too were under tremendous pressure of the thousands of flood victims asking for relief. The law and order authorities as well as the common public were vigilant against the black-marketeers and unscrupulous businessmen who sought to take the advantage of the situation.   

88. In North 24 Parganas district measures were undertaken to curb the rise in prices of essential commodities. Officers of Food & Supplies Department, Agriculture Marketing and General Administration including Police personnel kept a vigil to prevent hoarding of articles.

89. Review meetings with the officials of the line departments, police personnel, Karmadhakshyas of the Zilla Parishad used to be held daily under the guidance of the Sabhadhipati, District Magistrate and Superintendent of Police.  Finance Minister and other ministers of the State Government also very frequently used to attend those meetings. One Addl. District Magistrate, Addl. Superintendent of Police and some Deputy Magistrates were deputed to the more affected blocks like Bongaon, Bagdah and Gaighata for supervision of the rescue and relief operations and also to maintain the law & order situation. There was no untoward situation during the entire period.

Disposal of Corpses and Medico-Legal procedure

90. Human lives lost in Nadia District were 231 and in Murshidabad 600. In addition, 18 persons were found missing in Nadia District. As reports of corpses floating in water came in, arrangements had to be made for their retrieval and disposal. Suitable high land was not available for burial. Moreover, there was scarcity of scavengers. Nearly hundred scavengers from the neighbouring Birbhum district were brought to Kandi Sub-division of Murshidabad. But such was the stench from the corpses that even the hardened scavengers could not approach the bodies without throwing up or falling sick. Country liquor had to be ordered from wherever it was available to alleviate the misery of the scavengers who did a good job thereafter.

91. As the death due to flood is an unnatural death, the normal procedure for UD (unidentified death) cases has to be followed. But during those odd days of severe flood, lodging FIR at Police Stations and sending the dead bodies to the concerned hospitals for post-mortem reports were hardly possible. Considering the difficulties, the Relief Department waived procedures for post-mortem reports and police reports for granting ex-gratia assistance to the next of kin of the deceased during the floods of 2000. Instead of those reports, the next of kin of each deceased had to collect the death certificate from the concerned G.P. Pradhan with the signature thereon of two persons of the locality who knew the deceased and had seen the dead body.

92. In North 24 Parganas District the number of human lives lost was 47. The dead bodes could be disposed of very quickly with the help of the local panchayat bodies. In 42 cases post-mortem of the dead bodies could be done as the villagers were aware of the procedure. For the other 5 cases the advantage of the revised order of the government, in which formalities of post-mortem were relaxed, had to be taken. The next of kin of all the 47 flood victims received Rs. 70,000 as ex-gratia grant (Rs. 20000 out of state exchequer and Rs. 50,000 from Prime Minister’s Relief Fund).

Reconstruction

93. The Deluge 2000 left behind destruction all around. Massive reconstruction work was taken up by all three districts with active cooperation from all the Line Departments. Electricity was restored, roads, culverts and bridges were reconstructed or repaired as necessary, and embankments were strengthened. Basic services were restored in record time.

94. A unique experience occurred in Murshidabad. A political leader came from Bhagwangola and informed the DM that the Kalukhali embankment cum road had, with a deafening roar, given-in to the incessant dash of floodwaters. Several dead bodies were underneath the mud, he said. Four blocks of the district were now completely inaccessible. The DM availed of the only effective transport, a tractor, and waded through waist-deep water to reach the spot. The elderly people said that this was the basin of the mythical river Saraswati and that it was a mistake for the government to have built the embankment-cum-road diagonally across the basin. A new link road had to be built and fast. The best civil contractors were taken to the spot by the DM and told that they had to build a road by the side of the railway track so that road communication could be restored as quickly as possible. Work started without any tender and written work-order on the basis of the DM’s verbal assurance that all such work would be regularised later on. Everyone joined in. Some agricultural plots, over which the road was aligned, were readily sacrificed by the farmers in the larger interest. Generators were installed and work continued in three shifts round the clock. Fourteen days later, the road was ready and Kalukhali’s reconstruction became a symbol of the resilience of the people of Murshidabad district. A front-page editorial entitled “Shabash Kalukhali” gave the embattled district administration officials the much-needed fillip.

95. Though the disaster had left a permanent scar on the memory of the people, life slowly progressed towards normalcy.

 



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07-Nov-2020
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