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Township marooned for 20 days
Sun is the only saviour in Sodepur

waterworld: piggyback or pink slippers

A neighbourhood 15km from the heart of Calcutta has been flooded for over a fortnight, putting the elderly under house arrest, forcing gumbooted mothers to ferry schoolchildren on their backs and making an extra pair of shoes mandatory for the office-bound.

Carbolic acid to keep snakes at bay has made it to the shopping list of almost every household in Sodepur’s HB Town and even a short spell of drizzle strikes fear of more misery coming their way.

Homemaker Paromita Ghosh has purchased a pair of wellingtons to wade through the stagnant water with son Aryan riding piggyback to and from the road where his pool car stops. “The entire stretch till the main road is waterlogged, beyond which the pool car usually doesn’t venture. Today was better. I didn’t have to walk that long,” said Paromita, whose son is a Class I student at Modern School, Barrackpore.

Moumita Sarkar keeps a pair of slippers in her bag for her son Shreyansh, a Class III student at DAV Public School in Barrackpore, so that he can wade through the water to reach his pool car without wetting his shoes. “He changes into his school shoes after reaching the pool car. It’s the same routine on the way back,” she said.

HB Town is not some rundown residential neighbourhood in the back of beyond. Rows of private houses, many of them belonging to doctors, bank executives, teachers and government officials, line the lanes of this township in Sodepur, off Barasat Road on the northern fringe.

Real estate agents peg the price of a cottah of land in the area at nearly Rs 3 lakh, a manifold increase over what the first buyers had paid for their plots before the construction boom in the late Nineties.

Many blame the “unplanned” growth of the township during that period for their woes today. “Water bodies were indiscriminately filled and buildings were allowed to be raised without the authorities planning for the future. This area was so beautiful until 10 years ago,” rued a resident.

The babus at Panihati Municipality, where elections are due next month, pleaded helplessness. Executive officer Ratan Kumar Saha said prolonged sunshine was the locality’s only escape from waterlogging woes. “We are trying our best but when the area will dry out depends on how quickly the rain stops and the sun shines,” he said.

For the 20,000-odd people living in HB town and its adjoining areas, that’s the kind of official response that has added to the frustration of having to wade through murky water every day for the past 20 days.

A few metres from the township is the Panihati State General Hospital, where knee-deep stagnant water has kept even ambulances away.

“Ambulance drivers refuse to bring the vehicles inside the hospital compound. There are rickshaws waiting at the gate to carry patients inside. For those who are immobile, we have stretchers,” hospital superintendent Subhabrata Das said.

The building housing the outpatient department had been inaccessible for days, forcing OPD services to be shifted to the emergency wing.

Not just HB Town, residents of nearby localities such as Ramakrishna Park and Chanditala have been suffering the ravages of rain and municipal apathy for more than a fortnight.

The cemented lanes of Ramakrishna Park are slippery with moss while those in HB Town have cracks all over. Several residents have been injured after slipping and falling or failing to spot a jagged edge.

With hardly any municipal intervention, diseases are on the rise.

Hospital superintendent Das said there had been a spurt in the incidence of gastroenteritis and skin diseases triggered by prolonged exposure to contaminated water.

Not that this is the first time HB Town and its adjoining localities have faced waterlogging. “This has been a recurring problem for over two decades but never before did we have to wade through water for more than a fortnight,” said Subhendu Ghosh, a resident of Ramakrishna Park. “Rainwater usually takes three to four days to recede. This year, there have been intermittent spells of heavy rain and hence we have suffered more. We have been marooned for 20 days and the municipality doesn’t have a clue what to do.”

The stagnant water has slowed down the pace of life so much that morning newspapers now reach the neighbourhood around noon. Hawker Atul Roy slipped and fell while going from door to door on Thursday afternoon. “Several copies were damaged and I had to buy newspapers from another vendor to deliver to my customers,” he said.