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..what angry flood victims told the touring ministerial duo:
Asim Dasgupta
Buddhadeb Bhatta-
Answer: 'MINISTERS!'
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Special Report:
 Flood 1998!
The Deluge of the Decade
If the article you wish to read has been archived (due to paucity of space), please contact us/mail to:sankalpatrust@hotmail.com
(Click links in 'bold' to see the full contribution)
01 Relief still eludes Malda flood victims: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated August 30, 1998 : page 7  
Reports the voice of discontent and anger of the flood victims of Malda district.
02 Basu finds no reason to visit Malda: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated September 3, 1998 : page 7 
Reports that Mr Jyoti Basu agrees Malda's flood situation is 'alarming', but finds no reason to visit the district now.
03 Floods man-made: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated September 3, 1998 : page 7 
Reports the gross negligence of state government and Farakka Barrage authorities
04 Disease adds to Malda's woes: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated September 3, 1998 : page 7  
Reports the spread of disease due to the floods; 17 people have died of gastroentritis and nine of snake-bites. About 1,1000 are suffering from gastroenteritis in Malda, 16,000 from enteric diseases in North Bengal.
05 Water batters Malda's silk industry: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated September 3, 1998 : page 7
Reports that production of silk in Malda, which contributes 70% of the total raw silk production in the state, has been badly affected as flood waters have inundated 7,254 hectares of mulberry plantations; estimated loss 24.8 crores.
06 Deluge of the decade drowns Malda: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman dated September 3, 1998: page 7 
Reports that the floods have split the state of West Bengal into two. And with Malda district being the only corridor for traffic along the north-south axis, the attack has been literally at the state's throat - the two halves of West Bengal severed from each other. 
07 Powerless & thirsty in the grip of water: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated September 3, 1998 : page 7 
Reports the fresh inundation in South Dinajpur; the death toll mounted to 70 - 51 in Malda alone. Malda town has plunged in darkness following the closure of three power sub-stations. Total damages initially estimated at Rs 400 crore - a figure that is bound to go up. In all, 3,200,000 of Nort Bengal's population have been hit by the floods. The North Bengal Flood Control Commission, set up in Jalpaiguri in 1971 to combat floods and erosion in Jalpaiguri, Cooch Behar and Darjeeling is virtually non-functional. The last few years have been difficult ones - a crippling funds shortage has left it gasping.
08 Minister's face Malda flood victims'wrath : Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated September 36, 1998 : page 7 
Reports that three West Bengal state ministers, Buddhadev Bhattacharya, Ashim Dasgupta and Partha De faced the wrath of flood victims in Malda district.
09 Army help sought to tackle floods: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated September 3, 1998 : page 7 
Reports that the state government has asked the army and BSF to help its rescue and relief efforts in Murshidabad where the Ganga and the Mahanda looked frightening today.
10 Floods: Malda still in darkness
11 'MINISTERS, STOP WASTING FUEL, HAND US THE MONEY' : Now Murshidabad explodes in anger: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated September 6, 1998 : page 2 
Reports that the state government's senior ministers Ashim Dasgupta and Buddhadev Bhattacharya were again taunted by flood victims for the poor relief provided and the absence of an effective preventive plan.
12 Scene grim in North and South Dinajpur
13 Hotel food, not flood, on Central observers'minds : Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated September 6, 1998 : page 2 
Reports that the Central team that came here to see first hand how people were suffering in the flood, were more intersted in eating good food and in their own comforts, rather than studying the grim situation of the suffering people.
14 Excerpts from "Police add to stranded truck drivers' misery", The Statesman, dated Sept 12
15 Fazilpur sits a step away from danger: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated September 8, 1998 : page 2 
Reports that at the tiny village of Fazilpur (at one end of  Murshidabad) the Ganga and Padma are separated by a mere 1.3 km. It was not so earlier. In 1944, the distance between the two rivers was 6 km; in 1965 3.5 km and 10 years later just 3 km. This time, the rivers might merge any day. If that happens, water from the Farakka feeder canal may flow into the Padma instead of the Ganga, endangering Calcutta Port. As many as seven big cracks have been detected in the embankment beginning from Nasipur in Raghunathganj to Moya in Lalgola. Moles have eaten into the embankment structure, and flattening of the embankment by locals for their own use have put Murshidabad a step away from danger.
16 Soaring prices hit submerged Malda: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated September 8, 1998 : page 2 
Reports that for the first time since 1971, the town of Malda has been flooded. But that year's flooding was nothing compared to the present deluge. Although fighting for life in muddy waters is nothing new to villagers in the district, the townspeople had taken the availability of food and power for granted. But with the prices of essential commodities spiraling every day, the residents of Malda town are praying that they never again face such a disaster.  
17 Lack of sewerage adds to Malda's woes: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated September 8, 1998:page 2  
Reports that the foundation of the Laximpur sewerage at Rath Bari in Malda Town has been out of sight under water, since the Ganga entered town on August 20. The scheme for the town's planned sewerage was shelved nearly a decade ago. The lack of sewerage is one of the reasons for the stagnating flood waters.
18 S Bengal districts put on alert: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated September 3, 1998 : Front page 
19 Sparks fly over floods: Copy of article appearing in The Telegraph, dated September 10, 1998 : Front page 
20 Relief eludes starving victims: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated September 10, 1998 : page 2
21 Breaches in Mahananda embankments feared: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated September 12, 1998 : page 3  
Reports that two breaches of the Mahananda embankments - one in the Barsoi branch of the river and the other in the 30-km long Sambalpur circuit branch - have had a devastating effect on several blocks of Malda district, including the town itself.  The fresh breach of the Barsoi branch  of the river in Nazarpur has brought to light the poor maintenance of the embankments. Meanwhile, the state government has shelved the master plan to dredge the Ganga, repair embankments of both the Ganga and the Mahananda, and construction of additional barrages.
22 Cadres, Police work overtime for a visit postponed: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated September 18, 1998 : Front page 
Reports that the homeless were robbed of their sleep as police worked throughout the night to remove all "encroachments" from the chief ministers' route. CPI-M cadres forced hundreds of red flags on marooned flood victims using the flyover as their home. Few refused the "gift", more out of ear than loyalty; those who did were told to accept it and be "grateful".
23 Basu's flood survey lasts 15 minutes: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated September 18,1998:Page 3  
Reports that Mr Jyoti Basu took weeks to decide to tour the flood ravaged areas of the state. When he did, the aerial survey was over almost as soon as it started.
24 Police gag flooded Malda's cry of despair: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated September 19, 1998 : Page 3 
Reports that despite being shielded by CPI-M cadres and policemen, Mr Jyoti Basu could not be shielded from the villagers' wrath at Panchmile "Medical Camp (about 10 km from Malda Town)  which had come into existence  this morning, about three hours before Mr Basu reached the spot ... The CPI-M is unapologetic about its blatant high-handedness. "Yes, we asked the policemen to remove the liars ..."
25 Sonia adds chaos to Malda's misery: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated September 19, 1998:Page 3 
Reports that National Highway 34 was closed soon after Sonia Gandhi's convoy made for the flood-hit areas at 2 pm, and Malda's crawl towards normalcy was halted for an entire day.
26 Sonia lets down Murshidabad: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated September 25, 1998 : Page 3 
Reports that a team of students of St. Xavier's and Loreto colleges, which left on September 24th with medicines, food material and clothes, is camping in the flood-hit Malda district and distributing relief materials to the affected people
27 City students on relief flood mission: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated October 1, 1998 : Page 5  
Reports that a team of students of St. Xavier's and Loreto colleges, which left on September 24th with medicines, food material and clothes, is camping in the flood-hit Malda district and distributing relief materials to the affected people
28 Chief Engineer blames politicians for flood: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated October 22, 1998 : Front page  
Reports that Mr P K Basu, Chief Engineer, Irrigation and Waterways says 'nothing was done despite warnings'.
16 Watch this space for new additions!
17 Watch this space for new additions!
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Today, especially in Bengal, there are many things going wrong. Many people believe it is because of the moribund bureaucracy - government, institutional, private ... whatever - that is responsible for the unacceptable state of affairs.
The objective of 'Stop'n Look!' is simply to throw the searchlight on the problems created by those people who are thriving in an obsolete bureacratic system - at our expense. We will compile information from the media, as well as first-hand reports from our correspondents, that show how callous our elders have become.
You will be the ultimate judge of our succes.
Viva la vox populi!
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Special Report: Flood 1998
01 . Relief still eludes Malda flood victims : The Statesman dated August 29, 1998: page 7
Statesman News Service  

MALDA, Aug. 29. - Flood victims of Malda district are voicing their discontent and anger over lack of adequate relief from makeshift shelters, submerged houses and huts.  

People in the worst affected areas of Jalapur, Sujapur, Kaliachowk II, Manikchowk, Rathdari and Meherapur, are yet to receive even the minimum relief, a month after the floods hit the district.  

The roadlink with the district headquarters being cut off, residents here are having a tough time fighting the floods.  

Swapan Basak of Sujapur said: "See what we've got - only a few pieces of tarpaulin sheets for over a thousand people. We are half starved, besides."  

The situation is almost the same in Malda town where hundreds have crowded the only flyover connecting the Malda central with Manikchowk, Valuka, Ratua and Harishchndrapur. People have been living on the bridge for the past seven to eight days, scared of returning to Manikchowk and Ratua.  

Sunoju Adhikari, a resident of Harishchndrapur, said: "Ours is a peculiar district. Every year we are threatened by devastating floods, but is there any step towards a permanent or even a semi-permanent solution to the problem?" Residents of Prabal Palli, in Malda had to cope with a five feet water level for two days before two speedboats were dispatched by the district administration.  

The District Magistrate, Malda, Mr. M V Rao, told The Statesman: "Since the town people are more conscious of their needs, they always make an issue of everything, taking advantage of the proximity to the district authorities. But we are earnestly trying."  

Two columns of army jawans have been deployed. Several NGOs have joined the relief operations.  

The administration fears an epidemic and other health hazards, since drinking water has been contaminated in some places. There are too few medical teams.  

Mr. Rao claimed the district administration had adequate stock of bleaching powder. It would help when the stagnant water dried up, a district health official said.  

The district administration has asked for more doctors from Calcutta. Truckloads of grain are being carried for distribution among the victims.  

But the victims complaints belie the administration's claim that the grain is enough. In some areas, rice, wheat and chira have been distributed in small quantities.  

The West Bengal Civil Defence and Civil Force personnel are helping with the relief work, too.  

"The BSF had been put on alert and they are providing logistic support to us," Mr. Rao, DM, told The Statesman.  

There has been no change in the flood situation in Malda and the total loss of property in the district has been assessed at about Rs 245 crore, a senior official of the state relief department told reporters at Writer's building in Calcutta today.  

The official said more than [1,160,000][this number should be rechecked] people have been affected by the floods in Malda. The state government has sanctioned Rs 10 Lakhs for relief.  

However, the flood situation in the Jalpaiguri district is under control.

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02. Basu finds no reason to visit Malda : The Statesman dated September 3, 1998: Front page
CALCUTTA, Sept. 2 - Mr. Jyoti Basu agrees Malda's flood situation is 'Alarming' but finds no reason to visit the districts now.  

"Why do I have to go? How do I stop the rivers from rising?" the chief minister asked reporters at Writers' Building today. "Our ministers are visiting the region and the Army too is helping," he reasoned.  

Earlier this year, Mr Basu's initial reluctance to tour cyclone ravaged Midnapore had raised a storm in the Assembly. The stated reason: to avoid disruption in relief work. - as visits of VIPs normally do.  

But today's justification for not planning to visit Malda appears to be a different reason - floods are "not in our hands," he explained.  

Central team: A central team will leave tomorrow fro Malda, Murshidabad and Darjeeling districts to assess the damage.

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03. Floods man-made : The Statesman dated September 4, 1998: page 2
Anindya Sengupta & Ajanta Chakravarty  
Statesman News Service  

CALCUTTA, Sept 2. - It was not so much the torrential rain in northern and eastern India that caused the devastating floods in Malda and Murshidabad. The blame must lie with the state government and the Farakka Barrage authorities who failed to take proper preventive measures.  

The main reasons for the floods are:  

* Breaches in the 1.5 km embankment along Farakka Barrage, weakened by theft of mud from its wall.  

* The failure to erect spurs - tall poles on the banks to control direction of flow - along the Ganga at Farakka.  

* Failure to dredge the Ganga.  

In a normal year, this is the course the Ganga takes: From Rajmahal in Mala, the river flows past Farakka, Jangipur and Raghunathganj in Murshidabad. After reaching Suti in Murshidabad, it splits up. The Padma carries its waters to Bangladesh to Bangladesh past Lalgola, Domkal, Jalangi and Haripara; while the Bhagirathi -Hooghly flows into South Bengal and heads for the Bay of Bengal.  

This year, this is what happened: Relentless rains in vast areas of Allahabad and Gorakhpur had sped up the Ganga downflow. The rain in Patna, Munger and Bhagalpur added momentum to the current and the river thundered to Malda.  

There the embankments, built a few meters from the Farakka Barrage , should have been able to resist the pressure. It couldn't, because it had been weakened by steady theft of mud from its wall by some contractors and local people for their own use.  

The embankment gave in, allowing the river to change its course. Water rushed into tributaries instead of flowing into the Padma, and these smaller rivers overflowed their banks.  

An irrigation official in Malda said the district administration was warned - well before the floods - about the theft of mud. Local politicians too knew. A written complaint was reportedly sent to the block land and land reforms office. Yet, no one did anything. The state irrigation minister, Mr Debabrata Bandopadhyay, admitted that water was rushing through the breaches in the embankment. But he said, ": "I don't know whether the embankment gave in because the pressure was too high, or because it wasn't maintained properly, or because some people have been stealing mud. The broken embankment may have been a reason for floods in Malda Town."  

The high embankment, built with silt and mud by the state irrigation department, was already brittle - theft or no theft. It had been erected close to Farakka Barrage to stop the water from flowing into the neighbouring lands, Because water usually swells after a barrage is built.  

But Writers' Building officials could not explain why loads of mud were used to raise its height, instead of boulders or sand bags - even though a devastating flood had ravaged Malda in 1971.  

SPURS NOT BUILT: There might have been some respite for the two districts had the 27th and 28th spurs at Manickchak , along the Ganga, been put up to deflect the water current. But the Farakka Barrage authorities, who were in charge of the Rs 80 crore project, delayed it for months, When they finally decided to issue the tenders, flood water had submerged towns, villages and highways, and left thousands homeless.  

NO DREDGING: Excessive silting has raised the river bed but there has been no concerted effort to undertake dredging, officials said.  

When Mr. H D Deve Gowda was PrimeMinister, the Keshkar Committee ha dbeen set up to look into the problems of the flood-prone districts, Malda and Murshidabad. The committee had reportedly stressed the urgency of midstream dredging in the Ganga.  

The report of the Pritam Singh Committee too was ignored, a senior official at Writers' Buildings said. The result: the Ganga has been flowing more than 2.5 meters above the extreme danger level, with little prospect of the water receding.  

And when the water does finally recede, the government will have a bigger problem on its hands - erosion of the river banks, including that of the Padma.

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06. Deluge of the decade drowns Malda: The Statesman dated September 5, 1998: page 2
Alokesh Sen and Marcus Dam  
Statesman News Service.  
Click picture to enlarge 

CALCUTTA, Sept. 4 - Nature's swirling fury has known no bounds this year. It has snapped the very life-line of West Bengal, leaving behind a state split into halves. Within the chasm lies an isolated Malda district, ravaged by floods considered the most devastating in several years. Not only have large chunks of the district been quilted by vast sheets of water, also disappearing from sight are long stretches of national highway 34, throwing the state's communication networks into total disarray. And with Malda district being the only corridor for traffic along the north-south axis, the attack has been literally at the state's throat - the two halves of West Bengal severed from each other.  

It has been more than a week since the movement of vehicles through Malda district has ground to a halt. Goods loaded lorries are having to move into neighbouring Bihar, negotiating circuitous alternative routes to reach their destination. - either in the North or the South of the state. Long-distance passenger bus services remain suspended. And with no signs of a let-up in the situation, everyone seems to be at a loss as to when services would resume.  

The only link, threatened but still clinging tenuously to life, is the railways. But even here, at least two trains have had to be canceled.  

While the communications network remains in shambles, the specter of rising prices of essential commodities looms large - supply lines having been virtually cut off. The state government has been prompted into considering invocation of Essential Commodities Supplies Act to prevent malpractices.  

The battering meted out by the swirling waters to NH 34and other roads criss-crossing the neck of West Bengal has rarely been so severe. The highway is under water in at least nine stretches ...  

Damage to the state PWD roads has been more extensive, spilling into several other north Bengal districts which have been unable to escape nature's scourge. Nearly 60 km of these roads are in need of immediate repairs - the costs have been put at over Rs 24 Lakh.  

No estimate of the damages (in terms of cost) is, however, possible now, at least in the stretches in Malda district. The reasons are obvious. Large stretches remain submerged, defying any assessment by engineers, state PWD officials say.  

[The remaining portion of the report can be obtained by request mailto:sankalpatrust@hotmail.com]

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 08. Minister's face Malda flood victims' wrath : The Statesman dated September 6, 1998: Front page
Ajanta Chakraborty  
Statesman News Service  

MALDA, Sept. 5. - Three state ministers faced the wrath of flood victims in Malda district today, as the toll mounted to 45. The unofficial flood toll is 58.  

The anger of the people marooned at Saudallapur forced Mr Buddhadev Bhattacharya, Mr Ashim Dasgupta ana Mr Patha De to take to their heels, cutting short their "survey". They spent the rest of the day "discussing the flood situation" at the Circuit House.  

Briefed by local CPI-M workers of the mood here, the ministers had tried to placate the victims with promises of rice. "We will give you rice," the Home Minister, Mr. Bhattacharya told them.  

The ministers knew it was no use talking of tarpaulin or zeoline tablets to the hungry men and women on the afflux embankment at Saudallapur near Malda Town. They've been going without food since the floods swept the town on August 4th.  

Most of them are now showing symptoms of gastroentritis. The finance minister, Mr Dasgupta told reporters that of the 45 who were killed, 17 died of gastroentritis, seven of snake bites; the rest drowned.  

Miss Rambha Majumdar, school teacher from Birampur near Malda town, told the ministers: "Almost all the mud houses in my area have been destroyed in the flood. People have been living under the open sky for the past one-and-a-half months. No relief material has reached there." Hearing this, a CPI-M member of the Mothabari Panchayat, whispered to Mr Bhattacharya: "Local party leaders are only giving relief materials to their own party supporters." "This is not the time to talk of Trinamul, BJP, Congress and CPI-M," the home minister shot back angriliy.  

By then the flood victims had had enough. "We are not getting anything, why have you come here?" they shouted. Jhumara bibi, who had come from Gangapraad colony, said: "You will do nothing for us!" Many others joined her.  

Sensing the mood, the ministers for home affairs and finance promptly turned back and walked over to their convoy, leaving the health minister, Mr De, who was still listening.  

"Don't give relief material to the panchayat pradhans. We will never get it," a man said. The convoy had left by then. Mr De climbed into the only waiting jeep.  

That was the end of the ministers' survey of the flood-affected areas. The were at the Circuit House for the rest of the day and met the Central team which also arrived today to gauge the extent of damage. Money from the National Calamity Relief Fund will be granted on the basis of its report.  

The entire Malda town plunged into darkness as the Ganga rose by another 4 cm. The Mahanda and Pulahar are also rising The water level rose in areas already inundated: Sarbamangal Pally, Sarad Pally, Ramkrishna Pally Subhas Pally, Pranto Pally, Rani Park, Arabinda Park, Regent Park and Rathbari.  

Areas which are still dry include Madhyampur, N S Road, Bandh Road and Colony No 8. Power connection was given in some areas for an hour today.  

Mr S P Majhi, a resident of B G Road, said the people are all the more angry because there's been no power for the past two days. The sub-stations are inundated.  

Mr Dasgupta said efforts were on to restore power supply in Englishbazaar through Mayanpur's 11kV line. "Our foremost priority is to protect spur no. 24, which is threatening to break any moment. Boulders will be thrown in the areas for the purpose," the finance minister said. Liaison officers will be posted in each block to oversee relief operations.  

Yesterday, the state power minister, Mr Shankar Sen was here. He promised to stay back and restore power connection within 24 hours. However, he left without making good his promise."  

Most of Malda town is flooded and the water has begun to give off a stench. Drinking water and food are being sold at a premium. Flood victims have occupied just about every accessible highland. Many have taken shelter on the flyover on National Highway 34. People are fishing in the flooded highway below.  

About 1,500,000 people are feared to be marooned. RAF companies of IAF will be deployed for rescue and relief operations.  

Mr Dasgupta said about 1,318 people are ill with gastroentritis, though district officials put the number at 6,000. However, the minister qualified his statement with: "But this is only the official figure"  

He said efforts would be made to improve the sewerage system of Malda town Asked why these steps were not taken earlier, he said "this was not the time to look back."

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11. 'MINISTERS, STOP WASTING FUEL, HAND US THE MONEY' : Now Murshidabad explodes in anger: : The Statesman dated September 6, 1998: Front page.
Statesman News Sevice  
Click picture to enlarge 
Berhampore, Sept. 6 - Mr Asim Dasgupta and Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharya again felt the anger of flood victims when they toured Murshidabad today.  

Wiser from yesterday's experience, when Malda's wrath forced them to hide themselves in the Circuit House, the ministers today at several places didn't even get down from their car.  

Even when they did, they got to hear little about the people's sufferings anyway. What the flood victims had to say was on another pitch.  

"Stop burning fuel and hand over the money to us - so we can at least survive," shouted Piyarul Islam at a Lalgola village as he watched Mr Dasgupta climb down from his car and walk towards an embankment. And as the ministers' convoy whizzed past another village, people thronging the roadside shouted in anger at the vanishing cars.  

At Fazilpur, however, some villagers attempted to tell the ministers about their troubles.  

Safikul Islam had begun saying : "What even if you (ministers) send us relief material? We do not get anything. The Panchayat pradhan and his cronies grab it all ..." But his voice trailed off as he caught the red eyes of cadres.  

Soon, it was time for the ministers to leave. There were important meetings to be held at the circuit house - to "assess the damage".  

Before that, of course, they didn't forget to make the promises - about tarpaulin sheets, medicines and food.  

At Panditpur, Lalgola, Mr Bhattacharya asked the villagers: "Are you in a position to cook? I will send you rice and vegetables".Latyer at the circuit house, Mr Dasgupta unfolded a number of "schemes to be implemented soon," as he spoke to reporters.  

Meanwhile the entire district continues to reel under the twin threats of flood and erosion.  

The Padma's level has reached an all-time high. The Ganga and the Bhagirathi too look threatening.  

The embankment at Fazilpur, separating the Padma from the Bhagirathi-Hooghly, is barely holding out - and so is the fate of Berhampore town, perhaps that of the entire district. Farakka, Bhagwangola and Dhuliyan are sinking by the hour.  

Army personnel, who had been helping the administration tackle the floods, have fanned out also in Murshidabad.  

The culvert on the Karimpur-Berhampore state highway has been severely damaged. Flood water has spread to Tehatta and two blocks of Karimpur, a state police officer said.  

MAMATA PLEA: From Calcutta, Miss Mamata Banerjee urged the Prime Minister to tour North Bengal's flood-ravaged areas.  

In a fax message to Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, the Trinamul Congress leader said that in case the Prime Minister failed to come himself, he should send either his home minister or his defence minister with the Union Agriculture minister.  

She said large areas had been flooded, leaving thousands homeless. Relief operations should be carried out on a war footing.  

In the first meeting of the Trinamul working committee in the city today, it was decided that three teams would visit Malda, Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri on Tuesday.

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13. Hotel food, not flood, on Central observers'minds :  The Statesman, dated September 6, 1998 : page 2
Statesman News Service  

MALDA, Sept. 7. - The Central team that came here to see first hand how people were suffering in the flood, got a taste of the human misery soon enough. They found the food and the arrangements at Malda town's most expensive hotel intolerable.  

The state government had rolled out the red carpet for observers who were to recommend the quantity of aid from the National Calamity Relief Fund.  

Three ministers - Mr Asim Dasgupta (finance), Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharya )home) and Mr Sreekumar Mukkherjee (civil defence) - had ensured that the team would be touring with security and state officials in tow.  

But it was not the flood victims suffering that seemed uppermost in the guests' minds.  

The first thing that irked some of them as soon as they stepped into their hotel was the power cut. Malda has been without electricity for four days because flood water has swamped all three power stations.  

"Why isn't the air conditioner working?" a team member was heard asking the hotel manager. As the hotel was supplying electricity in phases through a generator, which could hardly take the load of working the fans, there was no question of running the even more power-guzzling air-conditioners.  

The team wasn't happy with the eggs-toast-and-coffee breakfast either. They grudgingly ate the food and left on their helicopter tour to "assess the damage caused by the floods.  

Tired after the survey, the team seemed none too happy to climb the stairs to the top floor of the hotel, whose ground floor was flooded. The ration on power meant that the lift couldn't be run.  

As the hapless hotel staff ran helter-skelter to provide the best hospitality - under express orders from the state government - the official guests had them flummoxed with a fresh order: the pakoras they had served were not good enough. They wanted prawn balls!

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14. Excerpts from "Police add to stranded truck drivers' misery": The Statesman, dated Sept 12
 KURSELA BRIDGE (NH-31), Sept. 11 - Being stranded on the highway is bad enough, having to pay the police for your safety is worse.  

The floods spell misery to many, but for the Bihar police it is boomtime.  

"Those who have doled out Rs 1,000 to the police are safe," says Mohammad Omar. Those who don't are "mercilessly beaten up". Omar shows the injury on his arms and blood stains on his shirt.  

Omar started from Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh and his truck is destined for Jorhat, Assam. It has been stranded on the Kursela Bridge for 10 days.  

Omar and other drivers, who are running short of money and unable to pay, have been beaten up black and blue.  
The assistant sub-inspector, Mr Harishankar Jha, doesn't agree. "We have no option other than using lathis on these wicked drivers. They overtake and create traffic jams," Mr Jha says. "You see, my lathi has been broken in a bid to control these truck- wallahs."  

Surprisingly, these policemen are not seen anywhere when the trucks are attacked and looted.  

Miscreants carrying countrymade arms came by boats at Kursels yesterday evening and looted grains, vegetables and other goods from four trucks. But the police was nowhere to be seen.  

There is virtually no relief arrangement for the marooned people who have taken shelter on the Kursela Bridge and along the railway tracks between Khagaria and Katihar stations.  

This reporter saw a mad scramble for 20 bags of grains piled up by the road at Madrauni Chowk on NH-31. Relief officials had vanished fearing attack as they knew the food was too little.  

Madrani Chowk was the only place in the 40 km stretch from Nangachia to Kursela where this reporter saw some relief being supplied.

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18. S Bengal districts put on alert , The Statesman dated September 3, 1998: Front page 

CALCUTTA, Sept. 7. - South Bengal districts may get a heavy rainfall, the state government warned today. To reinforce relief and rescue operations in flood-hit Murshidabad, the state has sought four companies of Army personnel and 56 boats from the Eastern Command headquarters. About 50 Rapid Action Force personnel will be sent to Malda. In all, 136 people have died and 4,574,000 have been affected by the floods in North Bengal. Malda, Murshidabad and North Dinajpur have recorded the maximum number of deaths. The Ramakrishna Mission has distributed relief material and water purifying tablets in Malda and Murshidabad. Cooked food was distributed among people in 30 villages in Kaliachak Block II, English Bazar and Manikchak blocks and in Nasipur and Akhrigunj areas (Bhagbangola Block I)

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 19. Excerpts of Sparks fly over floods, The Telegraph, dated Sept. 10, Front page (with picture)
Click picture to see enlargement 

Sept. 9: A row has erupted between Calcutta and New Delhi over defence minster George Fernandes' unscheduled visit yesterday to flood-ravaged North Bengal, even as six districts, including Malda, continued to reel under the excruciating aftermath of the floods.  

Chief Minister Jyoti Basu expressed anger, saying the minister should have informed the state government of his visit. "Even after he completed his tour, he did not think it necessary to speak with us," he said ...  
... After 49 days of being under water, there is still no improvement in Malda district. Prices of daily necessities are soaring rapidly, there is no power in Malda town, supplies of food, relief material and medicines are still erratic in some parts of the district and diseases are spreading.

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 20. Relief eludes starving victims: The Statesman dated September 10, 1998: page 3

MALDA, Sept. 9. - Despite assurances of adequate relief supplies in floodhit Malda by the state government, thousands of people continue to starve and suffer due to severe shortage of food, medicines and drinking water.  

The situation continues to be grim, particularly in Bahanno Bigha, Shahapur, Shaptadi, Ratua, Mahitip and several other fringe areas surrounding Malda Town. Apart from a few volunteers ofthe Bharat Sevashram Sangha, Missionaries of Charity and Army jawans, very few state government officials were seen at these places.  

"Lack of proper transportation facilities, inadequate supply of rice, dal and logs has hindered our progress also," says a dejected Swami Jadavananda of the Bharat Sevashram Sangha, currently overseeing relief operations here.  

The day started very early for the Sangha volunteers. Eight drums full of khichidi were loaded onto a truck and it slowly left for a makeshift camp of the Sangha near the town hall. Passing through the thickly crowded Atul market, the truck with this correspondent on board headed for Shahapur.  

All the houses of the village had been washed away by the swirling waters of the Ganga. After a few yards down Mangalbari, the truck pulled up abruptly - the narrow road was completely submerged and the truck would not move, declared the driver.  

The matter was finally resolved as local youths of Shahapur arrived in dingies to take home their much-needed food for their families.  

A relieved Swamiji now directed the driver to drive towards Bahanno Bigha, which was completely submerged. Making its way along the flyover, , Buraburitala, the truck nearly overturned near a broken culvert at Sunny Park. The unruffled driver soon steered his truck as it made its way through a narrow road to Bagbari., with clusters of makeshift tents on either side pf the "road".  

Havaldar Ram Kumar Rai of the 68 Engineer Regiment of the Army was waiting on his speed boat. A few members of the team with four drums of khichiri soon left Bagbari to the aid of the hapless local residents of Bahanno Bigha.  
The boat reached Bahanno Bigha, where 4,500 people had taken refuge in a small embankment. "If these people had not come, we would have died. The government officials gave us chira four days ago. They have not returned since," said 32-year old Halo Mondal. Havaldar Rai gave medicines to some of the local residents from his own limited supply. "They have installed only one tube-well for all of us. We are facing severe drinking water problems, too", said Megna Das.  

The Ramakrishna Mission had supplied vests to the old and ailing a few days ago. "None of the promised relief items from the has reached us. The polythene sheets are already torn and we need replacements urgently," said one Nakul Saha.  

A little later, the boat was on its way to another corner of Bahanno Bigha. "Makeshift tents have been put up on a brick kiln. They do not have a single tube-well there", whispered Havaldar Rai. A few residents said, "We are forced to drink the stagnant water and also stay hungry."

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23. Basu's flood survey lasts 15 minutes: The Statesman dated September 3, 1998
Click picture to see enlargement 

BERHAMPORE, Sept. 17. - The chief minister, Mr. Jyoti Basu's aerial survey of Murshidabad's flood-afected areas today lasted just 15 minutes.  

The chopper carrying the the chief minister, the state Finance Minister, Mr Asim Dasgupta, and the Relief Minister,  Mr Satya Ranjan Mahato, left Calcutta for Murshidabad at around 2.30 p.m. The chief minister's helicopters were seen hovering over the Square Field Maidan at Berhampore at around 4.15 p.m. It takes am hour and thirty minutes to reach Berhampore from Calcutta, it was learnt.  

Thereafter, Mr. Basu and his two ministers conducted a "hasty" aerial survey of Jalangi, Bhagwangola and Lalgola along the banks of the Padma.  

Earlier the chief minister's proposed to visit Malda was canceled because of bad weather. Mr. Basu attended an all-party MPs and MLAs meeting at the Circuit House.  

Mr Sohrab Hossain, Congress MLA from Suti detailed the predicament of the people of Murshidabad. But, he was stopped midway by Mr Asim Dasgupta who interrupted with the number of "tarpaulin sheets" he had arranged for Mushidabad. The finance minister continued to intervene with statistics whenever a Congress MLA tried to tell the chief minister of the problems of the region.  

Later in the evening, Mr Basu said he was pleased at the co-ordination the Murshidabad administration had displayed in fighting the floods. "Everyone else should emulate such an approach," he said.  

Mr Basu spoke of the plight of more than 300,000 bidi workers in the submerged town of Dhuliyan. "The closed factories will be opened soon," he said. However, he was silent on how the conditions in Dhuliyan could be improved.  
The chief minister told reporters he hoped the floods in West Bengal could be declared a national problem. "We have submitted a memorandum in this regard to the Center." he said.  

Mr Basu added that party politics should not come in between the affected people and government assistance.  
"No political mileage should be extracted by any party from the floods this year in West Bengal", he said.  
A meeting of the DMs and the sabhadhipatis of the flood-hit districts of the state would be convened on the 24th of this month in Calcutta, the chief minister said.

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24. Police gag flooded Malda's cry of despair: The Statesman dated September 3, 1998: page 3

MALDA, Sept. 18. - The chief minister visited some flood-affected people of Malda today, escorted by a convoy of motorcycles flying red flags and carrying CPI-M cadres.  

But they could do little to shield Mr Basu from the villagers' wrath at Panchmille "Medical Camp", about 10 km from Malda town.  

The chief minister spent less than five minutes at the camp. He spoke to four women and a number of CPI-M functionaries before retiring to the circuit house.  

There were a few hundred other people who wanted to speak to Mr Basu, tell them their woes. Policemen, prodded by CPI-M workers, pushed them back with lathis.  

The "Medical Camp" came into existence this morning. The banner "Malda District Relief Camp" was put up about three hours before Mr Basu reached the spot.  

For the first time today, some doctors sat on "duty". Medicines, bandages and disinfectants appeared, almost miraculously.  

Two hours before Mr Basu, came some CPI-M cadres. Landing up about 9 a.m., they went about threatening villagers. Don't you dare complain to the chief minister about anything, or else ...  

As soon as the chief ministerial entourage arrived, the police took over. The people had put up a poster in red ink, beseeching Mr Basu to do something about the virtual absence of relief. CPI-M cadres pointed it out to the police. They tore up the poster.  

Some villagers - intrepid, or perhaps desperate - insisted on approaching Mr Basu. As the cadres and police pushed them back, the chief minister turned twice to look at  them.  

A few meters from the main road, he stopped to talk to four women. He spoke to Nor Japan Bibi of Mothabari.  
"How long have you been staying here?" - "More than a month." she replied.  

"What have you got to eat?" - "We got khichidi and chira on two occasions in the last six weeks ... once, each family was given two kg of rice," she replied.  

"No, we have got no baby food," as the answer to Mr Basu's next query.  

Nor Japan Bibi, however, forgot to tell the chief minister that consuming the rice supplied had led to an outbreak of diarrhea in the relief camp. Neither could she tell him that the camp had two tubewell for 18,000 people. That they had to walk for more than a kilometer to reach water. And they had to pay for it.  

She could not tell him that there was no medicine at the "Medical Camp". That the doctors and the banner he saw had appeared only this morning.  

Neither she, nor the three other women Mr Basu spoke to, had the opportunity to bring him up-to-date on the prices of some essential commodities: onions, Rs 40/kg; mustard oil, Rs 70/kg; potatoes, Rs 12/kg; rice, Rs 15/kg. Even kochu was for Rs 9/kg.  

The chief minister did not get to know that yesterday was the first time policemen appeared at the camp. They were nowhere to be seen during a dacoity last week. Villagers had had to defend themselves.  
The people don't understand why the cadres and police were behaving the way they were. "Would we have killed the CM? Why are the cadres acting like this?" Those were the first questions they asked after Mr Basu - and the police - left.  

For all his cadres' exertions, however, the chief minister is unlikely to have missed the placard hung atop the "Medical Camp" by angry villagers. It read: "No relief has reached us."  

They later told this reporter what they'd forgotten to add in the placard - that village quacks, not government doctors, had prevented several deaths  

The CPI-M is unapologetic about its blatant highhandedness. "Yes, we asked the policemen to remove the liars," said Shabana Begum, a CPI-M panchayat representative from Kazigram. "Khichidi and chira for two days was relief, however inadequate it might have been."  

One wonders what Mr Basu would have said to that. By the time Shabana Begum spoke, however, the chief minister was already following his cadres back to Malda town.  

He had just had a first-hand impression of the flood and relief operations in Malda.

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25. Sonia adds chaos to Malda's misery: What's your problem, she asked; few knew who she was  
The Statesman dated September 25, 1998: Front page

MALDA, Sept 24. - As Mrs Sonia today spent four hours meeting Malda's folld victims, relief trucks stood still in a traffic jam caused by the elaborate security around her.  

National Highway 34 was closed soon after her convoy made for the flood-hit areas at 2 pm, and Malda's crawl towards normalcy was halted for a day.  

The brouhaha began much earlier as a posse of Congress leaders descended on Malda after having stayed away till now. And the local Congress leaders, suddenly spurred to life, made for the helipad to welcome "Soniaji", who arrived at noon with Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar and Mr Atish Sinha, leader of the state Congress Legislature Party.  
Congress leaders scrambled to get into the nine cars which stood ready, and quarrels broke out between them.  

All the excitement - and the scorching sun - was perhaps too much for the PCC president. Mr Ghani Khan Choudhury dozed off in his bullet-proof car as Mrs Sonia Gandhi talked to flood victims in the afternoon.  

Mr Khan Choudhury, who is also the local MP, had stayed put in Calcutta and Delhi during most of the floods, but arrived here a week ago to make arrangements for Mrs Sonia Gandhi's visit.  

The Congress president outlived her partymens' expectations. Her head wrapped in pallu, she made 12 stops over and above the four Congress strongholds she was scheduled to visit.  

But on her 35-km trip, she had generally one question to ask, in Hindi. "What are your problems?"  

The people at Birpur gave the usual list: No tarpaulin, no medicines, no food. The grievances were all against Congress panchayat leaders.  

Mr Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, PCC working president, quickly said from behind his leader: "We are taking the names down. We will try to help them."  

Will the promise be kept, reporters asked Mrs Sonia Gandhi. She said: "I'm not in a position to make promises."  
Would she like to be in such a position? "Of course".  

Few of the villagers who had queued up seemed to know who she was. Nor did she seem to know much about them.  
Mohamad Kasim of Chhabilpara asked anothe person: "Will Sanjay Gandhi stop here?"  

And at Sujapur, Mrs Sonia Gandhi looked at one of the broken houses and asked Anasur Bibi who was fanning her: "How much do you need to rebuild this house?" "Rs 10,000," was the reply. The Congress President was amazed. "That's all?"  

Some people said local Congress leaders had announced her visit only yesterday.  

"They told us over the microphone to stand here and cheer. They had come to see us only once before," said Lakshmi Karmakar ...  

Moulok Sheikh of Bhartinaoda said: "We elected the Congress to the zilla parishad, but they only split the relief among themselves." He was determined to air his views before the "lady minister" today. But all the AICC President had to say was : "We will pressure the center and the state government to send more help." She said the relief was far from sufficient, but was careful not to criticize Mr Jyoti Basu and his ministry.  

The Congressmen had by now scribbled a long list of names. "We will ask the state government to help these people. That's the only thing we can do" said Mr. Aiyar. Mr Das Munshi, busy translating peoples' grievances to Mrs Sonia Gandhi, nodded in agreement.  

As evening fell and the convoy neared the town, the mood changed. People like Shakti Sardar and Nirmal Sen were angry because they had to wait for 4 hours on NH 34 near Rabindra Bhavan. Mrs Gandhi had made yet another unscheduled stop here. "After the floods, the VIPs should spare us from these troubles," said Bibin Mondal, a rickshaw-puller.  

Back at the circuit-house after a "successful" flood-visit, Mr Sonia Gandhi handed over a check of Rs 5 Lakh from the AICC to the PCC. She will leave for Itahar tomorrow morning, visiting the flood victims of Bihar.

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26.   Sonia lets down Murshidabad: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated September 25, 1998 : Page 3, 
LALGOLA (MURSHIDABAD), Sept 24. - Mrs Sonia Gandhi's hectic 1-hour tour of this town in Murshidabad failed to leave any lasting impression on the several thousand flood victims.  

Frustration was writ large on countless faces as they were denied the "privilege" of expressing their long pent-up frustrations and anxieties. The securitymen, like always, called the shots.  

Sajaman Sheikh and Akbar Ali, who are staying for the past one month at the M N Academy School - a temporary relief center which Mrs Sonia Gandhi visited - were disappointed. "We have heard a lot about her. We had hoped that she might bail us out, if only temporarily," they said. "The terrible security arrangement ruined our hopes."  

The entire area surrounding the school was virtually under the control of the police and the securitymen since early morning. The Special Protection Group (SPG) even prevented flood-victims for getting their quota of food and water. "They have brow-beaten us into staying inside. We are without food from last night," said Sohagi Bewa.  

The helicopter carrying the Congress chief and her tour coordinator, Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar, touched down at 10:45 a.m. Mrs Sonia Gandhi was immediately whisked away into the overcrowded rooms of the school through a specially cordoned area.  

She then went from one room to the other, speaking to some of the affected people. Language was a hindrance. "She was speaking in English. How could we understand what she said?" Sauterne Bibi, a flood-victim, asked.  

Mrs Sonia Gandhi's security personnel found it hard to keep pace with her. She was apparently trying to hurry; even local Congress workers were at a loss as to why.  

"It appears from her behavior that she is yet to understand the magnitude of the problem," said a critical relief worker. Spending a little over 20 minutes with the affected people, the AICC resident rushed upstairs to have a "discussion" with Congress workers. The meeting went on for about 35 minutes.  

To some people from Pathanpara, Chamarpara and Bishwanathpur, however, getting a glimpse of Mrs Sonia Gandhi was enough. But with the Congress chief not visiting any of the severely-affected places, the people of Gabtola, Noldohori, Ramnagar, Khalifabad and Sahabad have a lot to complain about.  

Ending her brief meeting with part workers, Mrs Sonia Gandhi was escorted back to the helipad and rushed to her helicopter and off she went.

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27. City students on flood relief mission;  The Statesman dated October 1, 1998: page 5
CALCUTTA, Sept 30. - A team of students of St. Xaviers's and Loreto Colleges is camping in the flood-hit Malda district and distributing relief materials to the affected people.  

The team left for the flood-ravaged district on 24 September with medicines, food material and clothes.  
A second batch of 25 students will leave for Malda after 5 October. The students plan to arrange alternative accommodation for those who lost their houses. 

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 28. Chief Engineer blames politicians for flood: Copy of article appearing in The Statesman, dated October 22, 1998 : Front page  
 Statesman News Service 

CALCUTTA, Oct. 22. - Political bungling at the "highest level" and administrative mismanagement allowed the Malda flood to wreak havoc for more than a month, says the chief engineer, irrigation and waterways. 

Mr P K Basu today criticized the politicians for overruling experts' suggestions about flood control, and local bodies for building flimsy embankments. 

At a seminar organized jointly by then American Cociety of Civil Engineers and National Alliance of People's Movement, Mr Basu blamed "lack of political will" for the absence of control measures despite warnings about a week before the floods struck. 

"There wasn't a single flood shelter in the whole area even after the devastation began. Where could we have removed the victims from Bhutni, Kaliachak and Manickchak?" Mr Basu asked. 

He said the irrigation and waterways department's proposal to raise the Manikchak-Malda road to prevent it being flooded fell through because local politicians weren't interested. He blamed the public, too. People living on the roadside refused to leave their homes - which were no better than shacks - and close to be marooned. 

"We are being unfairly accused of not doing our work properly, whereas the fault lies elsewhere," he said. "Decentralization of power through panchayats and block representatives has led to carelessness in the building of embankments in many districts. They don't bother going into the technicalities and check whether the embankments are strong enough. When they give in, we are blamed." 

Mr Basu said that no state government, with the exception of Manipur, has implemented the Center's mandatory 25-point flood control policy. 

The Malda floods were the worst seen in the state in many decades, affecting more than 2 million people. The floods were followed by a gastroenteritis outbreak which killed over a hundred. 

When Ministers visited the districts, they were abused by the furious flood victims. Yet the politicians continued to try and make political capital of the victims' misery. 

The state government passed the buck to Farakka Barrage, saying its failure to protect two major spurs caused the floods. 

A Statesman report, however, blamed the state government, too, describing how the embankments were left unprotected despite reports of theft of mud, spurs weren't built and dredging neglected. 


Comment received from S Mukherjee on October 25, 1998: 
Mr P K Basu's candour is refreshing. However, to blame the victims for their own miserable condition is in bad taste, because it is like blaming your two-year-old child for putting his or her hands in the fire. In 'Bravo' of Sankalpa, there is another sobering article - about naval medics and paramedics - who have tried their best to help these people and educate them. The key is education. But it is not the responsibility of naval medics and paramedics to educate the bright but uneducated and illiterate rural people. Another Basu must take the responsibilty for this abject failure. They had more than 20 years to do something, but the state of the rural people are worse. They had a golden chance, but they blew it!  Inshallah!

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