Mamata appeals for patience as protests erupt over restoration of normalcy; Army pitches in

Kolkata, May 23 (PTI) Scores of Army personnel were deployed in Kolkata and neighbouring districts of West Bengal on Saturday to help the authorities restore normalcy, even as protests continued against disruption of essential services notwithstanding an appeal for restraint by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

The death toll due to cyclone ‘Amphan’ touched 86 on Saturday as six more bodies were recovered since Friday night.

Within hours of requisition by the state, the Army was deployed in Kolkata and neighbouring districts for the restoration of essential infrastructure and services in the wake of the destruction caused by Cyclone Amphan, a defence official said.

Five columns of the Army were deployed in different parts of the city and North and South 24 Parganas districts- the three worst-hit districts of the state. Banerjee, who conducted an aerial survey of the worst affected regions of South 24 Parganas district for the second consecutive day, after accompanying Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar on Friday, denounced the 'negative campaigning' against her government, saying 'this is not the time to do politics'.

From Behala in the south to Belgharia in the north, protests continued in several areas of the city and its outskirts for the second consecutive day over the administration's failure to restore water and power supply.

The protesters, many of whom were women, said they are under extreme hardship as there was no electricity and water for the past three days and repeated calls to power utilities CESC and WBSEDCL went unanswered.

Amid the rising mercury, the continuous power cut and lack of drinking water supply had worsened the matters.

In a few places, clashes between the police and angry protestors were also reported.

Later while addressing a review meeting at Kakdwip, Banerjee urged people to have patience as the administration was working tirelessly to restore water and power supply.

'We are facing four challenges at a time, COVID-19, lockdown, issues related to migrant labourers and now the cyclonic disaster. Everybody should understand the ground reality and cooperate,' she said while directing the administration to utilise local people to restore normalcy in the region.

She said the Odisha government has agreed to send personnel to help in the process of cutting trees which were uprooted during Cyclone Amphan. An absence of workforce due to the lockdown has also hit restoration work, the chief minister said.

'Several people have left (the city) because of the coronavirus pandemic. In some places, 25 per cent of men are working while in some places only 30 per cent are on the job. So we do not have the required manpower, and because the lockdown is still on, they cannot come for work,' she said.

Later in the evening, the state home department announced that it had sought the support of the Army, railways and port for restoring essential infrastructure and services in the cyclone-ravaged areas of the state.

It also urged private entities to provide workforce and equipment for the purpose.

The Army personnel equipped with road and tree clearance equipment removed uprooted trees at Tollygunge, Ballygunge and Behala in south Kolkata. Meanwhile, the state government has asked the railway ministry not to send Shramik Special trains to the state till May 26, as it is busy with relief and restoration work post-Cyclone Amphan.

The post cyclone relief work on Saturday was also marred by a war of words between the opposition BJP and the ruling TMC after West Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh was stopped by police from visiting the cyclone-affected areas of the South 24 Parganas district.

'If the state government wants to pursue relief politics, they should get ready for a befitting reply from our workers,' he said.

Kolkata Mayor and state minister Firhad Hakim wondered why the state BJP was keen on doing politics over the distribution of relief materials.

Lakhs of people were rendered homeless as Cyclone Amphan cut a path of destruction through half-a-dozen districts of West Bengal, including state capital Kolkata, on Wednesday night, blowing away shanties, uprooting thousands of trees and swamping low-lying areas.

More than 10,000 trees besides a few hundred electric posts, traffic signals and police kiosks were uprooted in and around Kolkata.

PTI SCH/SUS/AMR PNT SRY