Reacting sharply to a reported statement of a Union minister, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee today said providing relief to the flood-hit people was her government’s first priority and an assessment of the damage caused by the floods would be done later. “Someone has said a state has to submit a memorandum to the Centre to get funds for floods. Providing relief to those affected by the flood is our first priority and the total damage would be estimated later,” she told reporters at the secretariat here, without naming the Union minister.
Banerjee said an evaluation of the damage would be carried out only after those affected were rescued, adding that she had already spoken to the prime minister and Union home minister regarding the flood situation in the state.
“As the flood situation improved in south Bengal, we were in the process of assessing the magnitude of damage there, when the flood was reported from north Bengal. Now, our first job is to rescue the people. They are in danger and we have to stand by them and save them first,” she added.
Stressing that the state required central funds to tackle the situation, Banerjee said the estimation could only be done after the water receded from the affected districts. “We cannot assess the magnitude of damage until the water recedes. You can make an approximate estimation of the damage of the agricultural land, but the overall assessment can only be done after the water recedes,” she said.
The chief minister said the rescue operations would continue and her government would provide an estimation of the damage caused by the floods in the state only after conducting a survey. “We have to conduct a survey before providing them (Centre) with the information. Without a survey, no information can be shared,” she said. On August 10, Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Saugata Roy had alleged in Parliament that while funds for flood-hit Gujarat and Assam, both ruled by the BJP, were released, no such announcement was made regarding West Bengal.
At this, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju had said the Centre did not discriminate and financial assistance from the state disaster response fund had already been given to West Bengal in two instalments. He had also said that for desilting of the Damodar river, another Rs 130 crore had been given to the state government.
Rijiju had said the state first had to give a memorandum to the Centre to get funds for floods and added that it was yet to be submitted. Stating that her government would help the flood-hit people of the state in building houses and getting seeds, Banerjee said the kin of those who died in the floods would be provided with a compensation of Rs two lakh each.
Since July 21, the floods had claimed 32 people in north Bengal, she added. Banerjee said with the flood waters receding, there were “signs of improvement” in Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri districts, adding that however, the low-lying areas of the other north Bengal districts were still submerged. Regarding the disruption of train services, following waterlogging of the tracks and damages to the rail bridges, Banerjee said she had asked the railway authorities to find out if an alternate route could be worked out.
“I have spoken to the railway authorities and they have told me that repairing the bridges will take another two weeks. I have asked them to find out if an alternate route to north Bengal can be worked out,” she said. Banerjee also asked the transport department to run more buses to help the people.
Regarding a sudden hike in the price of Bagdogra-Kolkata air tickets, the chief minister regretted that the airlines were “taking advantage of the situation”. Officials in the state’s disaster management department said the floods in West Bengal had so far claimed 95 lives, with 63 deaths reported from south Bengal and 32 so far from north Bengal.