Sleep under sky, eye on succour Spotlight on police barracks construction

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  • Published 16.04.10

Raiganj, April 15: More than 50,000 families who had lost their houses to the storm on Tuesday night prefer to sleep out in the open or take shelter on the balconies of school buildings rather than making any attempt to rebuild their dwellings. The reason: they fear the repair could deprive them of compensation.

After the devastation, the villagers have been scouring the ruins for anything they can salvage pulling out tin roofs entangled in uprooted electricity poles and extricating useful items.

The inspector-general of police of north Bengal, K.L. Tamta, said action would be taken against the contractor who had constructed the barracks that had been levelled by the storm.

Chief secretary Asok Mohan Chakrabarti said at Writers’ Buildings in Calcutta that the death toll had risen to 42 and nearly 70,000 houses had fully or partially damaged in North Dinajpur.

He also said Rs 2 lakh each would be given from the calamity relief fund for the families of the deceased and Rs 10,000 to those whose houses had been destroyed completely and Rs 2500 for partially damaged homes.

According to estimates made by the district administration so far, about 1.5 lakh people were rendered homeless.

“We have been camping in a field near our village to ensure that household items buried under the rubble are not stolen. Today, I could take out some utensils and rice. We are surviving on corn stalks (which are generally given to animals as fodder). None has come to our aid,” said Pamitra Jadav, a resident of Rampur in Raiganj block.

People like Jabbar Sheikh, too, are waiting for compensation. “About three years ago, many houses, including mine, were completely destroyed in a hailstorm. We carried out repairs ourselves. However, we came to know later that we would have been paid compensation, had the repair not been carried out. This time, I am waiting for someone from the administration to come and make a list of people who lost their homes and to pay compensation to rebuild them,” said Jabbar Sheikh of Rasakhaoa village in Karandighi.

He added that for the past two days, he and others had been spending the days on the veranda of a primary school. “I do not know where we will go when the school reopens tomorrow,” said Jabbar.

Civil defence minister Srikumar Mukherjee said the relief department had released Rs 5 lakh to rebuild houses. “We are trying to arrange for more funds. Work under the Indira Awas Yojana will also be taken up, but it will take some time,” he said.

Around 300 police constables who had a lucky escape when the storm ripped off the tin roof of their barracks and flattened the wall in Raiganj took shelter in vacant government flats in the district administrative hub of Karandighi.

However, they are reluctant to return even if the barracks are repaired. “The barracks were built in 2007 and the storm proved the quality of the work. It was the only pucca structure that came down crashing in the storm,” said Pratap Mitra, the district president of the West Bengal Police Association. He added that if the constables in the barracks had not been awake watching an IPL match, there could have been casualties.

Tamta today visited the barracks. “That the tin roof can be blown away by a violent storm can be accepted, but how could the concrete wall be damaged? It is evident that the construction was of poor quality. If the contractor has dues, they will not be paid. If he has been paid in full, we will file an FIR against him,” said Tamta.