Cyclone Amphan: Beyond Politics, Will Oppn Help Mamata Rebuild WB?

As Cyclone Amphan battered West Bengal on Wednesday, 21 May, how has the opposition, mainly the BJP leadership in the state, responded in helping to rebuild the state?

Said to be one of the worst cyclones to hit Bengal in decades, Amphan caused severe damages in Kolkata, Howrah, Hooghly, North and South 24 Parganas districts and their nearby areas, with a wind speed ranging from 155 to 185 kmph, accompanied by heavy rainfall. The storm also wreaked considerable havoc in parts of Odisha.

Quoting a death figure of “10-12 people” in West Bengal, CM Mamata Banerjee addressed a press conference on Tuesday around 9.30 PM and said the toll could increase and an estimate of the total damages can be ascertained only after 3-4 days.

How Are Local BJP Leaders, Other Oppostion Leaders Responding?

Meanwhile, the local BJP leaders, who aspire to come to power in the state elections due in 2021, were heaviliy criticised for not being actively present on the ground to help with relief efforts.

Also Read: Cyclone Amphan: 10 Die in WB, PM Says India ‘Stands in Solidarity'

BJP made a remarkable rise in the state during 2019 elections. In a state which has been an unchartered territory for the BJP for so long, the party garnered about 40% vote share and 18 out of 42 seats during the last general election. Leaving behind the Left, which has ruled Bengal for 34 years, and the Congress, the BJP has emerged as a principle opposition party to the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress. But, many were disappointed with the local BJP leadership’s immediate response to the natural disaster.

At 2.30 PM, when the article was first published, state BJP President Dilip Ghosh had not made any statement on how the local leadership plans to offer assistance with relief efforts. The only post on his Twitter timeline was a retweet about an update on the windspeed and the last post on his Facebook was a “press interaction on various issues- food, health, administration and status of democracy in our Paschim Banga.”

After facing flak for not doing enough, BJP MP from West Bengal and a vocal critic of the Mamata government, Babul Supriyo said on Twitter, “Honble @narendramodi ji & Honble @AmitShah ji are keeping a very close watch on WB & Centre shall do everything to help•I already had a meeting within @moefcc & are working out immediate plans in the rehabilitation of Sundarbans & adjoining areas where damage is inexplicable.”

Also Read: In Pics: Cyclone Amphan Wreaks Havoc in Bengal, Parts of Odisha

Meanwhile, BJP MP from Barrackpore, Arjun Singh, said, “ At this hour of crisis I assure all, BJP stands with Bengal and will provide all support to state.”

West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, who was engaged in a war of words through letter with Mamata few weeks back, tweeted saying he is waiting for further reports from Mamata Banerjee to provide assistance.

Congress Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha and five-time MP from West Bengal also urged the Central government to lend support to Mamata Banerjee for relief efforts.

Questions Raised on Modi’s Delayed Tweet Showing Concern

Mamata Banerjee, known to be feisty even in the face of her own electoral defeats seemed unusually helpless during the press conference, asking for help from the Centre.

PM Narendra Modi, who is an active Twitter user, was criticised for a delayed post on his social media about the cyclone. Accused of ignoring the storm in Bengal due to tiff with Mamata Banerjee, PM Modi finally tweeted after 20 hours since the storm made landfall, saying, “Have been seeing visuals from West Bengal on the devastation caused by Cyclone Amphan. In this challenging hour, the entire nation stands in solidarity with West Bengal.”

He had, however, held a review meeting with Home Minister Amit Shah on 18 May regarding the preparedness of the cyclone.

Shah had also called up Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik and CM Banerjee on 18 May and reportedly assured assistance.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, 21 May, the official handle of Ministry of Home Affairs tweeted a press release saying that Cabinet Secretary has assured of providing all assistance to West Bengal and Odisha.

Banerjee has been at loggerheads with the Modi government in the past, even during relief efforts for Cyclone Bulbul and Cyclone Fani that hit the state last year. After Cyclone Bulbul, Mamata Banerjee, while speaking in the state assembly during Question Hour in December 2019, had said that state was yet to receive a single paisa from the Central government despite Modi’s assurance. While after Cyclone Fani, PM Narendra Modi had said that Mamata had refused to hold a review meeting with him to discuss relief efforts.

Has Cyclone Amphan Been Declared a ‘National Disaster’?

Many on social media also raised the demand for declaring Cyclone Amphan a ‘national disaster’.

However, the Disaster Management Act of 2005, which guides India's disaster planning does not have any provision for notifying any disaster as a 'national calamity' or a 'national disaster'. In fact, the Act does not have clear demarcations for national, state or local level disasters.

So since the management of disaster is considered a state matter, according to NDMP, the primary responsibility for understaking rescue, relief and rehabilitation measures during a disaster lies with the state governments. But the central government pitches in through logistical and financial support during 'severe'disasters on request of the state governments.

Read the full explainer on ‘how to define natural disasters’ here.

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