Phailin leaves behind a political storm

Pratim Ranjan Bose Kolkata | Updated on November 23, 2017 Published on October 20, 2013

File photo of a flooded locality in Ranchi due to cyclone Phailin.   -  PTI

Super cyclone Phailin did not make a landfall in West Bengal. But the flood caused as a result of its after-effects, made regional politics stormy. Having lost much of its lethal power in Odisha, the cyclone exposed the lack of preparedness of West Bengal.

On October 12 after the cyclone made its landfall, Indian Metrological Department (IMD) predicted after-effects in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Gangetic West Bengal “within next 24 hours.”

Nature was particularly selective in causing heavy rains in the catchment of major river systems — Subarnarekha and the mighty Damodar — originating in Chota Nagpur Plateau in Jharkhand and flowing down West Bengal in the East.

Excess rains

And since the rains came after a very good monsoon, the overflowing reservoirs and dams in the regionstarted releasing water on October 13. Jharkhand, located on the upstream, was forced to take the first call by releasing water from Galudih reservoir on Subarnarekha.

In the face of continuing rains, Damodar River Board — represented by Central Water Commission, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) — was also forced to take a similar decision.

Within hours almost every reservoir — managed by Jharkhand, DVC and West Bengal — started releasing huge amounts of water.

Ideally, the entire operation should have happened in close co-ordination among all stakeholders, to minimise loss of life and property in the downstream. Both Jharkhand and DVC claim that the protocol was maintained.

While Jharkhand claims to have duly informed the West Bengal Irrigation Department about the release of water from Galudih, DVC, which manages five dams on Damodar river system, went a step ahead.

“Since West Bengal is the sole beneficiary of our reservoirs and irrigation canal network, every nodal officer, right from the district to the State-level were informed, according to the regulation,” a senior DVC official said.

CWC — the monitoring body on nation’s water resources — have not contradicted claims of either DVC or Jharkhand, so far.

Passing the buck

Officials in West Bengal, also confirm receiving alerts in advance, albeit on condition of anonymity. Because, the State has failed to act on them, and is now busy passing the buck.

In fact, sources say, that before Phailin made a landfall in Odisha, the West Bengal Disaster Management Department proposed release water from the overflowing State reservoirs to create headroom.

But, irrigation department didn’t find much merit in working in anticipation.

Unfortunately for them, the disaster did strike. There was excess rainfall in every river system in the region. Water was released by all stakeholders. And vast areas of Southern Bengal were inundated causing heavy damages and loss of lives. Till Saturday, the toll was pegged at 18.

Man-made flood

Everything followed the logical consequences, except the reaction of West Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee.

At a time, when Odisha was taking unprecedented administrative measures to avert the loss of human life in the face of a super cyclone, Banerjee and her Cabinet colleagues were busy preparing for Durga Puja celebration.

There was no change in mood even after Met office issued fresh alerts on October 12. She did not cancel leaves of Government employees as in Odisha. Andher heavyweight Ministers were busy organising pujas in Kolkata and the rest of the State. There was not a single reference of probable natural calamity on her popular Facebook page either, till she decided to blame it on DVC and the Jharkhand Government on October 16, leading to a war of words.

“This is a man-made flood,” she claimed and wrote to the Prime Minister expressing displeasure at the ‘actions’ of DVC, of which, West Bengal is part-owner and the single-largest beneficiary in terms of irrigation or investments in power sector.

She is not convinced that rain water cannot be held back and her administration is equally responsible in contributing to the flood by releasing water from State-controlled reservoirs.

The statutory organisation will meet the Chief Minister on Monday to prove that it is unduly blamed. But, it is doubtful if that would make any difference in her approach that too merely 8-9 months before the general elections.

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Published on October 20, 2013
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