That Cyclone Bulbul has headed towards Bangladesh ought not to generate a sense of relief in West Bengal. Questions must be asked about the extent to which the administration was prepared, although it must be said, as indeed Governor Jagdeep Dhanker has, that the administration reacted with alacrity once the calamity had struck, tragically amidst the pomp and grandeur of the annual Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF).
And the worst did happen on Saturday, 9 November ~ a cruel irony on the day the screenings began. Verily has the weekend reaffirmed the truism that laughter and tears go together. Misplaced is the concern over the fact that the tragedy has underwhelmed the footfall at Nandan .The meteorology department did emit the ominous signals a couple of days ahead of the calamity that has claimed ten lives in three districts ~ North 24-Parganas, Nandigram in East Midnapore, and Hooghly.
Destiny be damned; the two cases of drowning in Old and New Digha would not have happened if warnings against venturing out to sea been actioned by the East Midnapore administration. Reports suggest that the two had tried to brave the elements when restrictions were lifted at the peak of the disaster on Saturday. Aside from the general devastation ~ 60,000 houses have been damaged ~ the disaster has been maritime as well. The toll could rise as eight fishermen were on board the trawler, MV Chandrani, when it capsized off the island of Mousumi in the Bay of Bengal.
It is hard not to wonder whether the fishermen were suitably warned of the impending calamity. The cancellation of tourist permits to the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve for seven days (November 11 to 17) was to be expected. Another lesson to be drawn from Cyclone Bulbul is that giant trees in Kolkata soar on weak foundations. This lapse on the part of the authorities has led to the death of a 28-year-old man, who perished under the weight of a deodar tree which collapsed on him. Overall, the response of the administration pales in comparison to the reaction of Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik government to Cyclone Fani earlier this year.
Yet one must give it to Mamata Banerjee for having cancelled her visit to North Bengal, opting instead for an aerial survey of battered Bengal, notably Namkhana and Bakkhali in South 24-Parganas. And also Prime Minister Modi and Home minister Amit Shah, who called up the Chief Minister, with the assurance of assistance. In a remarkable instance of federal cooperation, several teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), stationed in Odisha, have already been deployed in West Bengal to assist the state administration in the task of rescue and relief distribution.
Additionally, the Home minister has assured the state that 18 teams of NDRF would be “kept on standby”. An estimated 4.6 lakh people are said to have been affected. It is fervently to be hoped that the governments in West Bengal and at the Centre will put their best foot forward.