|A speedboat outside the Tamluk block development office on Thursday. It could not be confirmed if this boat was in front of the office when Manna’s relatives and neighbours went there on Tuesday night. Picture by Jahangir Badsa
Tamluk, Oct. 31: A man suffering from jaundice and marooned in a flood-hit East Midnapore pocket died yesterday after boatmen hired by the disaster management department refused to ferry him to hospital, apparently telling his relatives and neighbours to seek the permission of government officials.
Employees of the Tamluk block development office, where a 24-hour control room has been set up and the boats have been kept, allegedly refused help to 50-year-old farm labourer Swapan Manna’s relatives and neighbours, who waded through knee-deep water to reach there around 7pm on Tuesday.
Maishali village resident Manna, who had been suffering from jaundice for the past few months, complained of severe pain in the abdomen and breathing problems on Tuesday evening.
His wife Kajal said: “We are marooned since Monday because of the floods. The water in our house is six inches deep. My daughter and I had put bricks under my husband’s cot to raise it. We have also laid bricks inside our house to move from one room to another.
“On Tuesday evening, my husband’s condition worsened and he needed to be shifted to hospital. I sent my nephew and some neighbours to the block office (1.5km away) to get a boat to take him to hospital.”
When the group reached the office, they saw two speedboats and three hired country boats tethered outside.
Manna’s neighbour Satish Chandra Bera said the operators of the speedboats refused to budge.
“They said there was no fuel. They told us to seek the permission of government employees in the control room for a ride. The country boats did not have oarsmen. The employees in the control room told us thousands had been affected by the floods and there was no time to think about a single person,” Bera, 60, said.
The employees “advised” the group to come again the next morning. “They assured us they would make arrangements for a boat if we approached them the next morning,” Bera said.
Government employees of different ranks from various parts of the district are working in the control rooms set up in Tamluk and Panskura since the areas were flooded on Monday for the third time in three months.
District officials said the disaster management department had hired 21 speedboats in Tamluk to ferry flood victims. The operators are contract workers.
“Many operators do not want to work after sundown fearing snakebites and electrocution from snapped wires. But the block development office control room has instructed all operators that during emergencies such as hospitalisation, they will have to bring out the boats. We provide battery-operated lights in such cases,” an official said.
The additional district magistrate in charge of disaster management in East Midnapore, Sagar Sinha, said Manna’s death was “unfortunate”.
“A boat should have been provided to Manna’s family. I will inquire into the allegation that a boat was not made available to them,” he said.
District officials said they had not been able to identify the operators and employees who had refused help.
Basudeb Bhowmik, the oarsman of a country boat, said the owners of the hired boats had an agreement with the disaster management department that “we will not ply our boats after sundown”.
A district official said such a verbal agreement had been made with boatmen.
Told about the death, a senior official of the department said: “Rescue operations are handled by the district administration.”
When Bera approached the block development office after Manna’s death around 7 last morning, a boat was made available to take the body to the burning ghat.
Around 200 villagers gheraoed the block development office and blocked the Tamluk-Panskura state highway for two hours from 8am today, demanding that boats be provided during emergencies at night.
BDO Madhumala Nandi said: “I assured them that I would look into their demand.” She refused comment on Manna’s death.