|A recent picture of Ganga Bhavan
|Villagers remove bricks from the remains of the Ganga Bhavan on Friday. Picture by Surajit Roy
Malda, Sept. 5: The irrigation department’s pride, the Ganga Bhavan, was eaten away by the ravenous Ganga that ran through banks last night at Panchanandapur, gobbling up more than 450 homes.
A small portion of the building stands out of the water now, the only reminder to the bungalow built in 1975 by then irrigation minister A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury.
The river was in no mood to relent. The boulders that were placed along the bank a year ago to stop the river from cutting in further tumbled into the water every second minute. The erosion continued even as officials and villagers looked on in a daze.
The Ganga has washed away everything, from trees and electric poles to homes. “There is nothing left of the Ganga Bhavan. In just five hours, the river ate into 250 m of the embankment. The building, which stood on three bighas, is inundated and so is most of the area that was Ganga Bhavan para,” said block development officer Shantanu Naha, who visited the site at 4 pm.
He added that around 450 to 500 families had been flooded out of their homes.
It was the roar of the river pounding against the bungalow that woke up Rakesh Sheikh, who worked as an errand boy for the guests at the Bhavan, a little after 2 am.
Realising what was about to happen, he woke up Afsar Ali, the night guard, and ran out of the building to alert others.
Outside, the villagers slept, unaware of the devastation.
Around 3.30 am, the local mosque issued a warning over its microphone, asking the villagers to evacuate.
“We ran out and informed the other villagers. There was nothing else to do. The river had just gone wild and was lashing at the bungalow. We stood for hours along with people who had abandoned their homes and watched the land go down. It was terrible,” said Afsar.
“I would have been swept away had it not been for Rakesh who woke me up,” he said.
Irrigation department executive engineer Pundarikaksha Roy said he was informed about the Bhavan’s collapse at 3 am.
“We knew the bungalow was in danger of being washed away but did not imagine it would be so soon. I have informed the chief engineer about the damage over phone,” he said.
That the department officials had apprehended a damage was evident from the fact that bookings for the bungalow had been stopped. Expensive kitchen ware had been removed along with television sets and some of the furniture.
The Bhavan was a luxurious two-storeyed bungalow with eight bedrooms, a spacious dining hall and a living room. Roy pegged the loss at Rs 10 lakh. Some pieces of furniture were lost forever, he added.
Interestingly, the irrigation department had spent Rs 4 crore last year to prevent erosion from reaching the guest house.
A huge quantity of boulders had been laid at strategic spots along the river to prevent it from breaking banks.
In 1975, the bungalow was 4 km from the river and provided a scenic view of the Ganga to visitors from a distance.
“Yesterday, the level of the river had risen to 24.82 m. The level increased by 1.39 m in no time because of heavy rain in the catchment areas in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and the release of over 200,000 cusecs from Indrapuri dam in Bihar,” said irrigation engineers.