Nearly five years after cyclone Aila struck leaving more than a million people affected in the Sunderbans, an ambitious project of the central government aimed at protecting the lives and property of the people living there has run into rough weather owing allegedly to the incompetence and indifference of both the incumbent Trinamool Congress government and the previous Left Front regime.
Under the project —- Reconstruction, remodelling and improvement of Aila-affected blocks of Sunderbans — the government had planned to build 778 km of embankments — primarily comprising of earth work and mangrove plantations — to withstand cyclones of upto 142 km per hour and provide safety to the inhabitants for the next 50 years.
So far, the embankments have been created for only about 21 kms, and the state government has got only one more year for completion of the project. It was on May 25, 2009 that cyclone Aila hit the coastal areas of West Bengal, killing at least 330 people and destroying crop and property worth crores. Thousands were rendered homeless and thousands of acres of fertile land was ruined by saline water that flooded the lands.
A year later, in October, 2010, approved the project at at an estimated cost of Rs 5,032 crore. The cost was to be borne by the central and state governments in the ratio of 75:25. The project was scheduled to be completed in four years. So far, the Centre has given Rs 532 crore, out of which the state government had been able to spend Rs 324 crore.
The project required 5000 acres of land to be acquired but so far only 1,727 acres have been acquired. The Trinamool government blamed the delay on the previous Left Front government and on problem of “acquisition of land”. “During the Left Front regime, only 127 acres were acquired. We managed to get another 1,600 acres. As land acquisition has been a problem, we have told the Centre that the design of the embankment has to be changed so that less land is required,” Rajib Banerjee, minister for irrigation, told The Indian Express.
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However, former minister for irrigation in the Left government Subhas Naskar shifted the onus of delay on TMC government. “The project was initiated in October, 2010, and we started it in the right earnest. However, a few months later, in May, 2011, Assembly elections were held and the TMC gained power. In three years, this government could acquire only about 1500 acres of land and build only 21 km embankment. People of Sunderbans will never forgive them, if they don’t finish the project,” Naskar told The Indian Express.
Of the 3,100 km of embankments in the Sunderbans, about 200 km were broken and about 600 km were breached by the cyclone that had hit with an intensity of about 110 km -120 km per hour.