Homeless, hungry Orissa on hair trigger
Highway to hope littered with hellholes
Surjeet gifts legacy in cash
Calcutta weather

 
 
HOMELESS, HUNGRY ORISSA ON HAIR TRIGGER 
 
 
FROM DEBASISH BHATTACHARYYA IN BHUBANESWAR AND AGENCIES
 
Nov. 1 
The wail of the living in cyclone-ravaged Orissa rose to a deafening pitch as food and shelter remained out of the reach of millions of marooned people even 72 hours after disaster struck the state on Friday.

Relief helicopters took off with food packets, flights and train services to Bhubaneswar resumed and the Puri-Bhubaneswar Road was opened today but communication links with most of the stricken areas remained severed.

Efforts to open a national highway were set back when farmers cut a 10-foot-wide breach in the road 38 km south of Balasore, trying to drain flood waters from their fields. ?When the army arrived to repair the breach, the reaction was violent,? said U.S. Abrol, director of the Chandipore tests range who was commanding rescue efforts.

Aid eluded most of the victims. An estimated 15 million people, half of Orissa?s population, have been affected. There were reports of 39 bodies recovered today, besides the 232 deaths reported earlier. But the monumental task of counting the dead, expected to cross 10,000, and searching for the missing is yet to begin.

As relief took a long time coming, patience wore thin. People fought in the streets for food. The potato cold storage at Jagatpur in Cuttack was looted, there were riots at Unit 6 in Bhubaneswar and trucks loaded with relief were waylaid on the national highway. Thousands begged for food on the highway.

In the state capital alone, 200,000 people ? one of every six residents ? were homeless. Entire slums had been washed away. Cuttack was under six feet of water in many places. The port town of Paradip, wrecked by the cyclone, was under eight feet of water and still completely inaccessible. Army sources said they tried to send helicopters to Paradip but failed. The army is hoping to clear the road between Cuttack and Paradip soon. Five national highways have been cleared so far.

Cuttack district collector Pradip Jena said: ?Most parts of the district cannot be accessed. We have stocks of 1,000 quintals of foodgrain, but there is no one to escort it. Looting is rampant by hungry people.?

Oxfam complained that it could not reach relief because there was no police escort. ?We tried to get to Paradip through the expressway, but marooned people attacked us. We had to turn back,? project officer Sathak said. ?The Orissa government has said it is helpless.?

Shops have not reopened since the cyclone struck. The government has started soup kitchens for slum dwellers in Bhubaneswar. ?But for every family there is only half a kg of rice per day, and no dal,? said Baikuntha Naik, a resident of a bustee in Unit 6. There is also a shortage of kerosene needed to cook the food.

Bhubaneswar gingerly began picking up the pieces after the storm. A few tankers visited different localities to distribute drinking water, petrol pumps reopened and water and power supply to the secretariat were restored. But in many areas, people had to depend on rain water, diesel was still not available and most of the city remained plunged in darkness. The situation in the rest of the state was much worse.

Congress MLA Lalatendu Mahapatra from Jagatsinghpur, one of the worst-hit districts, said: ?Five panchayats in my constituency (Balikuda) are totally cut off. There is no news of 20,000 people. Three hundred have already died and many more will die if they don?t get food. Whatever is being gathered is being looted. The police are helpless. Small children have only one biscuit to eat through the day.?

Thirty tonnes of food was airdropped on Jagatsinghpur today. The air force has pressed into service six MI choppers and one L 76 transport aircraft to reach relief to people around the state. Twelve sorties were made in the afternoon and more in the evening to drop food packets.

The army was evacuating people to safer places. In Balasore, 500 people from 90 villages were shifted out. But many families would not leave their homes. Huddled under plastic sheets, families squatted on roofs with stoves, beds, bundles of clothes and goat or two, refusing to move to government shelters.

Defence minister George Fernandes and mines and minerals minister Naveen Patnaik made an aerial survey of Paradip, where bodies were seen floating on the water. A four-storeyed hotel in the town was reported to have collapsed. Sonia Gandhi, who also made an aerial survey of Paradip along with chief minister Giridhar Gamang, said she would urge the Prime Minister to declare the cyclone a ?rare natural calamity?.    


 
 
HIGHWAY TO HOPE LITTERED WITH HELLHOLES 
 
 
FROM SUBRATA NAGCHOUDHURY
 
Balasore, Nov. 1 
For millions of people, the NH5 has become the safest shelter. Long stretches of the highway are dotted with settlements that have sprung up overnight.

Bands of youth armed with bamboo poles are standing guard round the clock to pounce on every truck that passes by. They search the trunks of the vehicles for food and relief. The piece of cloth they wear around their waists is the only belonging they have.

At different towns in this coastal district, thousands of people are stranded at different points and are trying to work out a strategy to reach either Calcutta or Bhubaneswar.

Tour operators, plenty in number in these Orissa towns, have been devising new route plans every day, trying to figure out the safest and surest ways of getting to the Orissa capital. Many people, apparently convinced, are taking these routes, willing to pay any amount.

It is not as if the tour operators are deliberately fleecing the stranded. The advice is often honest. But the journey stops at some point or other with the same shattering news that a bridge en route has been washed away or a culvert wiped out.

Stretches of roads have disappeared and rivulets have turned into fearsome rivers cutting across the road. At the end of the day, the passengers are back to where they had started.

A team of five MPs, who arrived last afternoon from Delhi, made a futile attempt to reach Bhubaneswar via Bhadrak. Soon after arrival, they approached through NH 5, but had to return from Soro, where Kansa Bangsa was in full flow, having eroded hundreds of metres of road.

Early this morning, four of the MPs made a fresh start from Balasore to reach Bhubaneswar at any cost. They decided to make a detour via the Sambalpur-Rourkela road, NH6.

?I haven?t been able to get in touch with my family in Bhubaneswar for the past five days,? said Jagannath Mullick, MP, Jajpur. ?It is so painful and upsetting. I will somehow have to make it to Bhubaneswar today.?

While Mullick?s family is in Bhubaneswar, his daughter and son-in-law were in Paradip when the cyclone started. ?Who should I look for first, my family or my daughter and son-in-law?? he asked.

Avijit Shetty, MP from Bhadrak and the fifth of the group, devised a more risky strategy. Riding pillion on a two-wheeler, he set out for the Soro-Bhadrak route once again this morning. ?I will try to cross the river by boat and then walk, cycle or do anything to reach my home in Bhadrak,? Shetty said.

Similarly grim was the situation along the railway route. Officials said over 10,000 people had assembled at Bhadrak railway station and tried to reach their homes. Another 3,000 have taken shelter in Markona passenger halt station. But there is not a single train in the section.

R.N. Ghosh, divisional safety officer for Kharagpur, made a survey of the trucks today and said one km of railway track was hanging near Sabira on the up line. ?It will take at least eight days to fill up the earth washed away from underneath the tracks. The bases of three other bridges on the down line have been washed away. But restoration work has started.?

District officials said they had passed the word around that those who removed trees lying across the roads and highways could use the wood. ?This will at least encourage people to clear the roads,? an official said.    


 
 
SURJEET GIFTS LEGACY IN CASH 
 
 
FROM MONOBINA GUPTA
 
New Delhi, Nov. 1 
CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet was spotted in an unusual place last week: inside the State Bank of India branch on the first floor of Parliament house.

It is definitely not one of Surjeet?s favourite haunts ? he is rarely seen in the corridors of Parliament. Even during political crises, Surjeet, among the most serenaded of politicians, has always stayed away from Parliament. More often than not, he is breezing in and out of the homes and offices of the political Who?s Who.

But that afternoon last week, the communist leader briskly walked up the stairs and strode down the wide corridor to reach the bank. Eyebrows were raised and tongues wagged as the Marxist leader did not step out of the bank for a good one hour. When he did emerge finally, Surjeet told reporters he had ?some work in the bank?.

The ?work? was a relic of the past and out of tune with the present common political practice. Surjeet was putting the final touch to financial transactions between himself and his party. He was giving up his pension as former Rajya Sabha MP. From now on, it will be counted as party levy.

There was more. Surjeet was giving up his right to family property, which amounted to a tidy Rs 20 lakh.

Treading the path picked out by his predecessors E.M.S. Namboodiripad, P. Sundarayya, M. Basavapunnaiah and C. Rajeshwara Rao, Surjeet has given away his share of the family property in Punjab to the CPM.

A draft of Rs 10 lakh has been made out in the name of the party?s Central Committee and another Rs 10 lakh has been donated to the Sohan Singh Bakhna Trust in Punjab. The trust will construct a memorial for the martyrs in the freedom struggle. Surjeet went ahead with the step after his family gave the green light.

From now on, the CPM general secretary will draw a wholetimer?s wage like any other full-time party worker. In a letter to the CPM politburo, Surjeet said he was inspired by the veteran communists who had given up their claims to family property and handed it over to their parties. Rajeshwara Rao headed the CPI when Namboodiripad was in charge of the CPM. Basavapunnaiah and Sundarayya were politburo members.

To give an ?international? flavour to his gesture, Surjeet has chosen the 50th anniversary of the Chinese revolution as the year of giving up his wealth. The example of Chinese communist leaders, Surjeet said in his letter, had been a great source of inspiration.    


 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 
Temperature: Maximum: 32.4?C (+1) Minimum: 24.5?C (+3) RAINFALL: 32 mm Relative humidity: Maximum: 97%, Minimum: 64% Today: The met office predicts a partly cloudy sky. Possibility of one or two showers or thundershowers. Not much change in day or night temperature. Sunset: 4.56 pm Sunrise: 5.45 am    
 

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