Inundated Bengal battles political blame game (West Bengal Newsletter)
Even as West Bengal grapples with flood and precious lives being lost, politicians in the state are doing what they are best known for - playing the blame game. In the forefront is Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who has dubbed the calamity as "manmade".
At least 17 people so far have lost their lives and thousands have been displaced as large parts of West Midnapore, Burdwan, Howrah and Hooghly districts continue to be inundated following heavy rainfall and release of water by dams.
The flood has left over 83,000 hectares of crops destroyed and more than 70,000 houses damaged, affecting nearly 100,000 people. But amidst the calamity a war of words has broken out after Banerjee blamed neighbouring Jharkhand and the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) of creating the manmade floods.
"It is manmade flood. It is their negligence it's a crime," Banerjee had said as she sought the central government's intervention by shooting off a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressing dismay at the way "Jharkhand and DVC released water without consulting my government".
While both the Jharkhand government and the DVC have denied Banerjee's claims, the opposition Left Front and the Congress were quick to latch on to the opportunity, accusing the Trinamool Congress of trying to shift the blame instead of adequately responding to the crisis.
"Manmade, woman made I don't know. What I know is you have to release the water to save the dams from collapsing. What will happen if the dams are blown away? Doesn't our chief minister know that," asked Marxist heavyweight and Leader of Opposition Surjya Kanta Mishra.
State Congress president Pradip Bhattacharya, going a step ahead, claimed the Banerjee government had prior information about the water release but chose to sit on this.
"The DVC chairman told me that they had informed the state government about the release of water. They had repeatedly intimated the state government. The state government is accusing others to cover its own faults," Bhattacharya said.
Rubbishing Banerjee's claims, DVC reservoir operations manager Samir Maji said: "The claim of the state government that it was not informed about the release of excess water is incorrect. They were informed on Oct 10."
The Trinamool's penchant for blaming the CPI-M-led Left Front for all evils also came to the fore. Transport Minister Madan Mitra alleged a "Marxist conspiracy" behind the "covert" release of water by the DVC.
However, Banerjee's theory of a "manmade flood" is nothing new and as a feisty opposition leader she would often accuse the erstwhile Left Front government of creating "manmade calamities" and extend relief work to make electoral gains.
But this time the Banerjee government is at the receiving end as both the Congress and the Left have upped the ante, accusing the Trinamool regime of inaction.
"I had called up officials concerned and told them to take precautionary measures last week, but they didn't pay heed. They were too busy with Durga Puja," Mishra had said following Banerjee's outburst.
While the state government has set up relief camps and distributed relief material, the continuous release of water by the overflowing dams of the DVC has been compounding the misery.
Even though Banerjee, her ministerial colleagues and Trinamool leaders have been touring the flood affected areas supervising relief work, the "politics over a calamity" has been widely criticised.
(Anurag Dey can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 19-10-2013)