Strapped for relief, villagers strike - Anger in storm-hit North Dinajpur

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  • Published 16.04.10

Raiganj, April 15: Inadequate relief in the storm-ravaged belt of north Bengal has forced desperate villagers to barge into a panchayat office and carry away tarpaulin sheets.

The villagers of North Dinajpur’s Karandighi also alleged corruption by officials in charge of distributing relief as the death toll from Tuesday’s storm, which scientists termed as a tornado-like phenomenon, rose to 42 in the district.

Around 50,000 mud houses have been destroyed in six blocks of the district, including Raiganj, 40km from Karandighi.

At two this afternoon, over a thousand villagers, who have been living in the open for over 36 hours, descended on the panchayat office in Karandighi block and seized tarpaulin sheets that had been sent today for distribution among the affected people.

The villagers said the relief material was woefully short of the requirement.

As soon as 500 tarpaulin sheets arrived, the villagers, waiting in the sun for over several hours, started shouting slogans, saying such a small amount would not be enough for them and the thousands of others back in the villages.

To add to their woes, the panchayat officials said the tarpaulin sheets would be distributed only after they received a list of affected families from the block development office.

The villagers then rushed into the panchayat office, broke open the door of the godown where the sheets were kept and carried them away.

Although police arrived within 10 minutes, the villagers stopped them from entering the office.

“We were too scared to stop the villagers who made away with the tarpaulin sheets. Some of them scaled the boundary wall of the office,” a panchayat official said.

Some of the sheets were snatched back from a few villagers after Jalpaiguri divisional commissioner A.K. Singh arrived with a large number of policemen.

Sheikh Bakhtiar of Karandighi’s Parasdhuria village said that though he realised that the seizing of the sheets was “wrong”, he was left with no option.

“I have been living in the open with my family since the storm struck,” Sheikh said. “My home is gone but I have my children to think of. What else could I have done? The government is not helping us so we have to help ourselves.”

The CPM gram panchayat pradhan of Karandighi, Badal Singh, said he would not blame the villagers.

“They have been living in the open for two days. Such a small quantity of tarpaulin sheets forced them into seizing them. I cannot blame them,” Singh said. “More such incidents are bound to happen in the coming days.”

There were also allegations that villagers who had lost their kin were not being given the entire amount of Rs 1,500 the government had promised them to carry out the last rites.

Ratan Barman, a resident of Raiganj, said the panchayat staff had given him only Rs 1,000 to cremate his wife “What happened to the rest of the money?” Barman asked.

Even the meagre ration of jaggery and puffed rice has not reached the villagers who are having to make do with whatever they have been able to retrieve from their destroyed houses.

“It is true that we have not been able to provide the villagers with any ration so far,” civil defence minister Srikumar Mukherjee said. “Instead of waiting for the ration to arrive from Malda or Siliguri, I have asked the district administration to purchase it locally.”