The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sonia flashes past flood-hit

Location: Shirol, Kolhapur

Situation: Flooded for over a week by dam water

Time spent: 7 minutes

Location: Sakinaka landslide site

Situation: 75 dead

Time spent: 10 minutes

Location: River Mithi’s banks, Kalina

Situation: Flooded river shut airport for two days

Time spent: 4 minutes

She came, she hardly saw and left quickly.

United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s whirlwind tour of flood-ravaged western Maharashtra and Mumbai left the victims, now battling a virtual epidemic, disappointed.

The Opposition was quick to slam her visit as a non-starter. “Instead of listening to people’s complaints and understanding their problems (she went away); it looked like one of Sonia’s road shows,” BJP state president Nitin Gadkari said.

Sonia landed at Pune at 10 am. Her next stop was Shirol in Kolhapur, where areas are still flooded more than a week after dam water rushed in.

In between, she did not forget to visit a local sugar factory in this politically powerful sugar belt.

For the record, in Shirol, where she spent seven minutes, the Congress president met a group of women and distributed relief kits consisting of bed sheets, mats and utensils.

She then travelled to Narsingwadi in Kolhapur before flying to the next chopper stop at Astha in Sangli district. She toured parts of rain-racked Belgaum before reaching Mumbai.

Chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, MP Gurudas Kamat and some other local leaders accompanied her to the spot where a landslide had wiped out an entire slum set at the foot of a hillock in Sakinaka. Sonia spent 10 minutes there.

She clocked even less ' just four minutes ' at a spot in Kalina near the domestic airport where the Mithi gets polluted by effluents and choked with garbage from squatters’ colonies on both banks.

Oil slicks from there are believed to have washed on to the airport tarmac during the July 26 deluge, causing an Air-India Boeing to skid off the runway after landing four days later.

Sonia visited the V.N. Desai hospital in infection-hit Santa Cruz East, where 220 people were admitted on a single day with burning fever this week, before going off to the domestic airport for a meeting with state officials. From there she flew back to New Delhi around 7.30 pm, having spent most of her Maharashtra trip in the air.

On the ground, the death toll climbed to 128 with 31 more dying in Mumbai (toll 89) and two in Thane (39).

“Nine died of suspected leptospirosis, one of malaria and 21 of (undiagnosed) fever,” said additional municipal commissioner Manoj Shrivastava.

“The hospital admissions have progressively improved, from 658 on Thursday to 906 on Friday to 1,049 today,” he said.

Why should a rise in admissions be an “improvement”' The official explained that this reflected a more widespread knowledge of the health situation among the people ' a sure sign that the corporation’s awareness drive had been successful.

“Since July 29, we have admitted 4,310 people. If you look at the toll of 89, mortality is just two per cent. We have succeeded in saving 98 per cent lives,” Shrivastava said.

The corporation is in the midst of another drive: to weed out “unhygienic foodstuff”. Between July 31 and today, it destroyed 1,706 kg of sweets, 3,300 kg of fruits, 1,956 kg of vegetables, 6,003 kg of other solid food and 3,884 litres of liquid food, officials said.

In the Kalyan-Dombivli suburbs in neighbouring Thane district, civic official R.D. Shinde said, “We still have 196 people hospitalised, but we now expect a decline.”

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