The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Homeless villagers heckle ministers
- Asim turns on colleague, calms crowd with package

Panchanandapur (Malda), Aug. 20: Angry villagers, who had their homes consumed by the ravenous Ganga and Pagla, mobbed the finance and irrigation ministers today, yelling out their grievances against the state government.

Amalendra Roy, the irrigation minister, fidgeted, uncertain what to do as the crowd ripped his department apart.

Asim Dasgupta, who holds the key to the state’s near-empty coffers, took over. He listened and questioned them in a professorial fashion, eventually calming them down with a Rs 3-crore rehabilitation package.

He said every family made homeless would get Rs 5,000 to buy a plot. “We will see later on if we can also help them rebuild their houses.” At least 3,500 families have lost their homes to erosion in five blocks in the district.

Dasgupta told the crowd of homeless people that the finance department would not foot the irrigation bill if the department did not make its work transparent in the area.

“Amalda, don’t you think that the irrigation department should make its work schedule public'” he asked the irrigation minister standing beside him. Roy, who had a long face, did not respond.

The ministers, who arrived in Malda this morning, toured the erosion-ravaged areas by launch.

At Panchanandapur, the worst-hit gram panchayat, they got off to see for themselves how the affected families coped with the disaster.

Squads of police, helped by Rapid Action Force jawans, fought to hold back several hundred villagers waiting along the riverbank for the ministers with placards to air their grievances.

They pressed around Dasgupta and Roy, breaking off the police cordon. “Where will we go now that we have lost our homes,” Abdul Sattar, a villager, cried out. “We have nowhere to do.”

Holding the man by his shoulder, Dasgupta took him into Gangabhavan, an irrigation bungalow at Panchanandapur. He and Roy spoke to him for a while.

As the mob waiting outside grew restless and started yelling slogans against the government, the ministers came out.

“Nobody knows what the irrigation department is doing here to prevent erosion. They get crores of rupees every year to build and maintain embankments, but God alone knows where this goes,” Abdul Khalek, upapradhan of the CPM-controlled gram panchayat, said. “We keep asking them, but they refuse to tell us.”

The finance minister found it unacceptable. “The irrigation department should work in co-ordination with local residents. People should be informed of the work being carried out,” he said.

Dasgupta said the state government had allocated a total of Rs 5 crore to deal with erosion in Malda. Of it, a sum of Rs 3 crore would be spent on rehabilitation.

The district administration, helped by the zilla parishad and panchayats, would work out the rehabilitation programme.

“They will decide whether they would buy them the plots or give the homeless money for land. But we want them to provide a roof over their heads as soon as possible,” the finance minister said.

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