Central team visits cyclone-hit areas of Bengal, faces protests

Kolkata, Jun 5 (PTI) A central team visited several areas ravaged by Cyclone Amphan in South and North 24 Parganas districts of West Bengal on Friday to assess the damage caused by the extremely severe storm but faced protests by the affected in some areas.

The seven-member team, headed by Anuj Sharma, joint secretary (cyber and information security) in the Ministry of Home Affairs, divided into two groups and visited Patharpratima in South 24 Parganas and Sandeshkhali in North 24 Parganas, an official said.

The team arrived in Kolkata on Thursday evening on a three-day visit to a red carpet welcome by the state government.

The team that visited North 24 Parganas faced protestors standing on both sides of the roads in Minakha and Malancha blocks with placards which said they were not getting enough relief.

Shouting slogans against the state government, they demanded more relief and food materials and asked the members of the central team to take note of their problems.

'The relief provided to us is very less. We don't have proper drinking water. We request the central team to ensure we get relief as early as possible,' said a Minakha block resident.

The teams were accompanied by the concerned districts' officials and toured several devastated villages and embankments of Patharpratima and Sandeshkhali blocks.

They also visited Namkhana in South 24 Parganas and Hingalganj and Basirhat in North 24 Parganas and spoke to locals and inquired about their problems, the official said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited Basirhat along with Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on May 22. After his visit to the areas whiplashed by the extremely severe cyclone of May 20 Modi announced an advance relief of Rs 1,000 crore, which has been released by the Centre to the state.

'We are taking note of every detail, we spoke to the locals. Whatever we have to say we will mention it in our report,' a member of the central team later told newsmen.

On Saturday, the inter-ministerial team will meet state chief secretary Rajiva Sinha and other senior officials of the state government before leaving for Delhi, he said.

The cyclone had left 98 people dead and caused large-scale destruction to property in several districts of south Bengal. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had said that the state suffered losses of Rs 1 lakh crore due to the cyclone.

The West Bengal government on Thursday rolled out the red carpet for the central teams to assess the cyclone-ravaged areas, terming it 'state guests', about two months after it had locked horns with the Centre over similar teams despatched to assess its COVID-19 preparedness.

But senior state minister and TMC leader Bratya Basu was apprehensive whether the visiting central team 'would be honest enough to put up the real picture'.

'I am apprehensive whether the central team would really put up a true picture or not. Because we have seen how previous central teams on COVID-19 were used for political purpose,' he said.

Reacting to the minister's statement, West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh said the central team will put up the 'real picture of how the state government had failed to provide relief to the affected areas'.

'We want the people suffering who are suffering because of the cyclone to get relief. The state government has been unable to provide relief to the affected in the last two weeks,' he said.

A war of words had broken out between the Centre and the West Bengal government in April over the visit of two central teams to the state to review the implementation of the coronavirus-induced lockdown.

The central teams had complained of non-cooperation by the state government, an allegation which was dismissed as baseless by the ruling Trinamool Congress. PTI PNT KK ABH ABH