Assault and raids after fresh shower Relief-starved villagers vent ire on pradhan

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By OUR CORRESPONDENT
  • Published 17.04.10
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Raiganj, April 16: Homeless villagers today beat up a panchayat pradhan and raided several rural offices for tarpaulin sheets after three days of waiting for relief in the storm-ravaged blocks of North Dinajpur where almost 1.5 lakh people have been spending nights out in the open.

Yesterday, too, more than 1,000 villagers stormed a panchayat office in Karandighi, 40km from here, and snatched away tarpaulins.

Last night’s rain only added to the existing frustration. Police sources said angry crowds raided the panchayat offices in Raiganj and Domohana this afternoon looking for tarpaulin sheets. The pradhan of Karandighi I, the CPM’s Badal Singh, was thrashed in front of the panchayat office by irate villagers around 12.30pm. The villagers have accused him of nepotism while distributing relief.

Most of the 1.5 lakh people — homeless since the violent storm ripped the district on Tuesday night killing 42 persons — are yet to receive any tarpaulin or plastic sheets to build makeshift shelters.

Panchayat pradhan Singh was rescued by the police, and a large force, along with the RAF, led by Islampur’s subdivisional officer Sudip Moitra arrived at the spot to defuse the tension. Even then, the mob refused to budge and when they tried to enter the office again, the police lathicharged.

Nirmal Singh, one of the affected villagers, said he could not control his rage when the pradhan came to the panchayat office last night.

“Yesterday, I had managed to grab a tarpaulin sheet, but the police beat me up and snatched it away. My hut has been completely destroyed and when I saw the pradhan, we beat him up as he was distributing the sheets only to his party supporters. I will beat him up if I see him again,” Nirmal said.

The pent-up anger of the affected people was also evident at the block development office in Hemtabad this afternoon when villagers laid siege to the building demanding relief and forcing the shops in the locality to shut down around 1.30pm. They also blocked the Raiganj-Balurghat state highway for 30 minutes.

Nirmal Barman, a resident of Gomordha in Raiganj block, said last night’s rain had drenched whatever clothes, mattresses and blankets that the villagers had been able to salvage.

In Karandighi block where 19 people have died in the storm, the villagers had stored whatever they could salvage under their beds. “We have no roof over our heads and last night when the rain came, we used plantain leaves and the foliage of yam shrubs to shelter ourselves from the rain,” said Sunil Sarkar of Pichla village in Karandighi.

Karuna Dasgupta, the karmadhakshya in charge of relief at the Karandighi panchayat samiti, said over 50,000 houses had been completely damaged in the block.

“We have received 15,000 tarpaulin sheets which are far less than the requirement. But we are distributing them on a priority basis with the help of the police as the people have become restive for the delay in the distribution process,” she said.

Civil defence minister, Srikumar Mukherjee, who is virtually running the show in the absence of the district magistrate and the police chief who are out of station, claimed that 57,000 tarpaulin sheets had been distributed.

“We are also going to give 12kg of rice to each affected family. The governor is scheduled to visit the affected areas tomorrow.”