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Deb stirs to give cash for pumps

- Week into water crisis, Cong & Left say minister’s move for ‘political’ gain before civic polls

Siliguri, June 8: Minister Gautam Deb today said the North Bengal development department would give Rs 50 lakh to the public health engineering department to buy two pumps to be installed to restore water supply in nine SMC wards that have not got running tap water for a week now.

Around 50,000 residents are affected. Most have resorted to buying bottled water. Those residents with access to wells nearby have been dragging buckets of water home.

Deb said today: “We have learnt that two machines at the pump house in Pareshnagar have become defunct. This has led to a halt in water supply in the nine wards.”

He said that officials of the PHE department, which runs the pump house, had told him around Rs 40 lakh would be required to replace the two pumps.

“To ensure that there is no further delay in the installation of the new machines, the north Bengal development department has decided to provide Rs 50 lakh to the PHE department,” he said.

Pareshnagar is in ward 36 of the SMC, one of the affected areas.

For the past one month, water supply in the nine wards of the 47-ward SMC has been erratic. Supply stopped completely seven days back.

Deb’s move to provide funds for the installation of the machines is being seen as a “political” move by the Congress and the Left Front who have questioned the state government’s silence over the past week when harassed residents were compelled to shell out several hundred rupees every day to buy water from shops.

No state agency has even sent water tankers to these localities, which would have brought some relief to people.

“Now that there is no civic board in the SMC, the civic body is under the supervision of the state government. The PHE department of the state runs the pump house. What were the government and the departments concerned doing for the past one week? The north Bengal development minister is the MLA of these nine wards. He cannot evade responsibility,” said Shankar Malakar, the Darjeeling district Congress president.

Mayor Gangotri Datta had resigned on May 20 after which, the Congress-led SMC board was dissolved.

The mayoral election is scheduled for June 16.

“After a week (of water crisis), the minister (Deb) is trying to project himself as a saviour of the affected residents by announcing the allocation of funds for buying the machinery. He is doing this keeping in mind the upcoming civic polls. Why were the machines not bought on an emergency basis and the residents were left to God’s mercy?” Malakar asked.

Deb blamed the Congress for the water crisis. The Congress civic board was “incompetent” and did not maintain the pump house, he said.

“The Congress-led civic board was in power when disruptions in water supply were reported. The problem has again exposed the incompetence of the Congress board and the former mayor, who during the past four-and-a-half years, took no initiative to see whether the pump houses and other infrastructure associated with drinking water supply were maintained,” Deb said.

“It is true that the pump house is maintained by the PHE, which is why we have called the officials here tomorrow for a meeting. I will also speak to state PHE minister (Subrata Mukherjee) on the issue,” he added.

S.W. Bhutia, the SMC commissioner, had said earlier that PHE officials were bringing the pumps from Hyderabad. They had said the machinery would reach Siliguri by tomorrow and water supply would be normalised by Tuesday.

Today, former minister and CPM leader Asok Bhattacharya criticised Deb for being “silent” all this while. “How can the local minister remain silent when people from his area are suffering? It is not that only CPM supporters stay in these wards. If he can grant funds to buy machinery now, why didn’t he do it 10 days back? Also, no instruction was passed by the state to provide water through tankers or other alternative means in these wards. All these indicate that the Trinamul government is least concerned about people who have voted them to power.”

When asked if Trinamul would take part in the mayoral election this month, Deb, who is also the Darjeeling district party president, did not say anything specific.

“The state government will take an appropriate decision at the right time,” he said.