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Army keeps watch as river rises

Malda, Aug. 18: The army has been kept on standby in Malda where the Fulhar is eroding its bank in Bhaluka. The villagers living on the embankment have been asked to move to safer places.

This morning, the Fulhar ate up more than 200 metres of the embankment.

District magistrate Sridhar Ghosh admitted that the situation at Bhaluka was “alarming”. He said the block development officer had been asked to evacuate the affected villagers.

“We are not taking any chances. The civil defence and army have been kept on standby to tackle any kind of eventualities,” Ghosh said.

Hundreds of villagers have started moving to safer places with their belongings. The water level in the Fulhar rose by 20cm from last night to reach 27.65 metres at 12 noon today.

Irrigation department sources said the level might cross 28 metres tonight. The power department has disconnected the electricity supply, fearing an accident. As a result, Bhaluka and its six adjoining villages have plunged into darkness.

The Congress pradhan of the Bhaluka gram panchayat, Parul Saha, said the irrigation department had pleaded helplessness in protecting the embankment.

According to Saha, more than 50 families, who live close to the embankment, have shifted to their relatives’ places. But nearly 400 families have stayed back there.

“There is every possibility of a breach in the embankment and in that case we will be cut off from the rest of the district. The local people are trying their best to protect the embankment with branches of trees, bamboo poles and other raw material. We have told the district administration about our apprehensions,” the panchayat pradhan said.

Saha alleged that relief material had not yet reached the affected villagers, nor did any senior official from the district visit Bhaluka.

Santosh Chowdhury, a trader of utensils at Bhaluka market, echoed the apprehension. “You have to see things to believe how we have been spending days. We had repeatedly told the irrigation department and the district officials to take anti-erosion measures well in advance. But they showed little interest. Now the things are beyond their control,” he said.

The block development officer of Harishchandrapur II, Narbu Tshering Lepcha, said the administration was ready with relief material and boats. “The panchayats have been asked to prepare a list of those affected by the erosion and incessant rain. Officials have been sent from the block to take stock of the situation.”

More than 10,000 people from eight villages have been marooned for the past three days, said Suresh Yadav, the Opposition leader of the Islampur gram panchayat in Harishchandrapur II block.

“But the administration remained indifferent. No one had come to inquire, not to talk of relief,” Yadav alleged.

Dipak Mondal, the divisional manager of the West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company in Malda district, defended the decision to disconnect the power lines at Bhaluka.

“There is a 33KV transformer in the area where the embankment is threatened. We are trying to supply electricity to the affected areas from other sources,” he said.

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