The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Erosion victims fire court threat at govt
- Swell of public rage matches the Pagla

Malda, Aug. 19: As thousands of people who lost their homes to erosion prepared to petition Calcutta High Court against government inaction, two fresh breaches in an embankment endangered two villages in Panchanandapur.

District magistrate Ashok Bala said 1,200 families were being evacuated from Sakullapur and Jotkajuri, which were threatened by the breaches. “If the water level rises, the villagers would be at risk. So they are being taken to safety,” he said.

More than 3,000 people have been left homeless after the Ganga and the Pagla merged in Panchanadapur in Kaliachak II block last week. Ganga Bhangon Pratirodh Committee leader Tarikul Islam said the homeless families would send 1,000 postcards to the high court chief justice as a symbolic protest against the government inaction.

“At least 15,000 people have lost homes and agricultural land to erosion since 1998. But the government has done nothing to rehabilitate them,” he said.

Islam said they wanted the high court to step in and move the government into action. “We have bought the postcards and are writing the petition. Why can’t we get compensation like the flood-affected people'” he asked.

He said the organisation, set up by the homeless, would also hand an appeal to finance minister Asim Dasgupta and irrigation minister Amalendra Roy, slated to visit the affected areas tomorrow.

“Instead of trying to prevent the erosion with embankments, the government should now pay more attention to our rehabilitation,” Islam said.

The families are planning to stage a demonstration at Panchanandapur during the ministers’ visit.

Zilla parishad sabhadhipati Gautam Chakroborty, a Trinamul Congress leader, said he heard that the ministers would see the erosion-affected areas from a launch. “They might not risk touring the area by road fearing public wrath.”

A senior official said the ministers had not decided how they would travel to Panchanadapur, about 25 km from Malda. “The decision will be taken only after they arrive tomorrow morning.”

Minister of state for fruit processing Sailen Sarkar, a senior CPM leader from Malda, said the government would try to devise a scheme to help the homeless. “But it is not possible for the government to rehabilitate so many families without the help of the Centre. Tens of thousands of people have been made homeless in erosion not just in north Bengal but in the south as well,” he said.

Sarkar said the district Left Front committee would submit a memorandum to the minister, demanding rehabilitation of the homeless.

Mahiruddin Ahmed, a retired schoolteacher, is no stranger to erosion wrought by the changing course of the Ganga. “I first saw the river eroding villages nearly three decades ago. But I have never seen anything like this. It’s so rapid this time,” the 70-year-old resident of Panchanandapur said.

Like many others in the area, Ahmed lost his home to erosion last month. “The river gobbled up everything. We have absolutely nothing left.”

Prafulla Saha, another villager, found the government’s “apathy” galling. “Nature first took everything we had. Now, the government is making sure that we have nothing to eat.”

With the backs to the wall, the villagers are fighting back. “We could not fight nature but we sure can fight the government,” said Razzak Sheikh.

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