JHARKHALI, 20 MAY: Laila is knocking at the door and residents of Sunderbans don’t even know what flood and cyclone shelters are. According to Mr Mortaza Hossain, state disaster management minister, there are 315 flood shelters in coastal areas of North and South 24-Parganas and Midnapore East. But, a visit to the places proved how difficult it is to locate them. Moreover, the centres are far from how they should be.
A member of an NGO working in Hingalgunj said the cyclone shelters are located very far from the villages. “People tend to be in their houses till the last moment during floods. And, when they finally leave for the flood shelter, it is so far away that there is a possibility they will die on their way,” said Pabitra Jogdar, resident of Kalitala, Hingalgunj Block.
When asked about the distance of cyclone shelters from the villages, Mr Mortaza Hossain, said: “I don’t know about this. These things were done before I took up this ministry.”
Moreover, the cyclone shelters are havens of local goons for the rest of the year. The villagers often use them to tether their cattle. Mr Tushar Kanjilal, a member of the task force formed by the Union ministry of water resources to assess the damage caused by Aila, said: “I had proposed that school buildings should be used as cyclone shelters. The cyclone or flood shelters are left unused for the rest of the year and hooligans take shelter there. If schools are developed into cyclone shelters, there will be better maintenance of the building and people would be able to use it when the time comes.”
However, an ideal cyclone shelter should be erected on columns to let floodwater pass and should have a medical unit on the upper floor. Models of cyclone shelters in Orissa and Tamil Nadu could be used as an example. Mr Hossain said the Centre had approved 200 cyclone shelters ~ 90 in South 24-Parganas, 50 in North 24-Parganas and 60 in Midnapore East ~ based on this model. Rs 200 crore was earmarked for the project. “We were later told that they would send a team to identify the location for constructing such multi-purpose cyclone shelters each with a budget of Rs 80-85 lakh. Site selection team has identified such places and now we are waiting for the work to begin,” said Mr Hossain.
When asked what will happen if Laila turns out to be severe, Mr Hossain said: “I have sent warnings to police stations, schools and BDOs and I have already sent tarpaulin, clothes and money to be distributed if there is any crisis.” On being told that Aila-victims are still waiting for relief, Mr Hossain said that owing to irregularities in the list prepared by the four-member committee ~ comprising the panchayat pradhan, panchayat samiti sabhapati, leader of the Opposition in the panchayat and the BDO ~ that is supposed to identify the people eligible for relief, the money to rebuild damaged houses has not been provided yet.
On the other hand, Mr Biswajit Roy Chowdhury, secretary of the Nature Environment and Wildlife Society (NEWS), said the Department of Architecture of Jadavpur University (JU) had structured a design for cyclone shelters. The JU will supervise the project while NEWS will provide funds. Eight cyclone shelters will be made each with a budget of Rs 28 lakh. The construction is scheduled to begin on 1 June, 2010, and will be finished before the monsoons hit.