The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Breach cloud hangs over Malda town

Malda, Sept. 7: Ganga Bhavan is gone and the surging water of the river in spate is making the district keep fingers crossed.

“We have sounded the red alert as the water is flowing a mere 4 cm below the extreme danger level. The situation turned serious after a large portion of the embankment at Panchanandapur was swept away on Friday,” said executive engineer of the irrigation department Pundarikaksha Roy.

In the early hours of Friday, the department’s famous Ganga Bhavan disappeared into the roaring waters after the embankment was breached. Since then, more than 1,500 families from six villages that no longer exist have been living in the open.

Irrigation officials are on the edge as they fear that the worst is still to come. Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and parts of Bengal are yet to receive their full quota of rain this season. “By now, we should have had 1,400 mm of rain but we are still 500 mm short of the mark. The same is true for Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. More floods cannot be ruled out,” said Roy.

Irrigation officials said the rising Ganga could breach the 250 m embankment near Panchanandapur market, about 20 km from Malda town. The embankment is being strengthened.

Another 1,500 m earth-filled embankment is being constructed at Sukurullapur, 3 km from Panchanandapur.

Work at Sukurullapur hit a hurdle when villagers refused to part with their land for a 500 m stretch. The crisis prompted district magistrate Ashok Bala to turn to former Union minister A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury.

The senior Congress leader “discussed” the problem with Bala at the district magistrate’s bungalow today and drove straight to Panchanandapur to speak to the villagers.

Later in the day, irrigation sources said the problem had been sorted out and work is in progress. This is the same embankment for which finance minister Asim Dasgupta had announced Rs 30 lakh earlier this year. Work on nearly a kilometre of it has been completed.

The people displaced by the floods are living on the roadside and surviving on dry food distributed by the district administration . “We had decided to give each family Rs 3,000 but the zilla parishad wants to give them land instead,” Bala said.

Cutting across religious barriers, residents of Panchanandapur, Baggitola and Ghaskhola rallied together to placate the Ganga. They organised a puja yesterday to appease the raging river. The villagers congregated at the confluence of the Ganga and the Bhagirathi at Baggitola, where a shamiana was raised.

Beating drums and cymbals, the priests oversaw the sacrifice of a pair of goats and poured 120 litres of milk into the rivers.

Back at the spot where Ganga Bhavan stood, boatmen were seen manoeuvring their way trying to figure out the remains of the bungalow.

“The water here is almost 120 feet deep, the bungalow cannot be located,” one of them said.

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