WITH HEAVY rainfall over the last 48 hours, around 58,000 people have been affected in 150 villages due to inundation of flood waters in three districts of North Bengal, prompting authorities to issue a red alert in Jalpaiguri.
State Disaster Management Minister Javed Khan said 58,000 people have been affected in Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar. The government has established 43 shelters in the affected districts where relief material is being provided to those who have been temporarily displaced from their houses, he added.
Among the affected are Siliguri and its surrounding areas in Darjeeling district, Dooars region in Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar districts, Kalchini, Madarihat and Kumargam blocks under Alipurduar and parts of Cooch Behar and North Dinajpur districts.
According to the meteorological department, this is probably the heaviest rainfall that North Bengal has experienced in nearly two decades. Between June 1 and June 29, sub-Himalayan West Bengal has received 17 per cent above normal rainfall, while at the pan-India level, it was 12 per cent below normal. Between June 23 and June 29, when the country received normal rains, it was 32 per cent above normal for North Bengal.
Teesta, Torsha, Leesh, Geesh, Korola and Mahananda rivers in the region have all crossed the danger mark. With Teesta rising to the rail bridge between Bagrakote and Sevok — 25 km from Siliguri — the Northeast Frontier Railway has suspended all train services on the Siliguri-Alipurduar-Assam route. Six trains from Siliguri to Cooch Behar and Assam were also cancelled on Monday.
Locals said with roads submerged and many in hill areas of Darjeeling district on the verge of collapse, dozens of villages in North Bengal have been disconnected from the rest of the state. Dinbazar, Maynaguri, Malbazar, Banarhat, Nagrakata and Binnaguri have been completely submerged. Civil defence teams are on standby to relocate residents if needed, said officials.
With several bridges being washed away, hundreds of people have taken refuge in relief camps. In Alipurduar, bridges between Kalchini and Jaigaon near Bhutan and over river Tuna near Bagdogra have been washed away. In Cooch Behar town, waterlogging has affected around 300 families.
Incessant rains in Sikkim and Bhutan has resulted in increase of water level in low-lying areas of Dooars, officials said. Victor Basu, a member of Dooars Jagron — an organisation that works with tea estates — said 100 tea gardens have been affected across North Bengal. “In my area, Banarhat in Jalpaiguri, 10 tea gardens have been completely submerged. This will severely affect tea production this year,” he said, adding that flash floods had swept away five houses on Sunday morning. “Not only shanties, even pucca houses and shops have been damaged. The rains have temporarily stopped but water level in the town has reached five feet,” he said while pointing out that forest areas have also been severely affected.
Major companies having tea gardens in North Bengal are Andrew Yule, Goodricke and Luxmi Tea among others. Chairman and managing director of Andrew Yule, Sunil Munshi, said two of its gardens — Banarhat and Karaballa — were 35 inches under water. “The rains have caused a huge damage not only to the crop, but also to labour lines,” Munshi said, adding that damage of such scale has not been seen for a long time, particularly after 1993 and 2000.
Last year, tea production in North Bengal, except Darjeeling, was around 315 million kg. Joint Secretary of Indian Tea Association, Sujit Patra, said this time, the crop production would be much lower.
While rainfall continued in Darjeeling and most roads remained cut off, officials said the situation in Darjeeling town was better than areas in Dooars and Terai regions. However, late Saturday, a 14-year-old residential building in Zakir Hussain Basti collapsed in Darjeeling town, killing eight people.
“Still, the situation in Darjeeling is not so bad. The Rohini road towards Siliguri is submerged and National Highway 10 to Sikkim is badly affected. But there are several approaches to Darjeeling town, including Mirik and Kalimpong, so we have not been cut off. We have food to last us for another week,” said Shailendra Pradhan, assistant professor at Mirik University and a resident of Darjeeling.
When contacted, Siliguri Mayor Ashok Bhattacharya said relief material, including food (dry fruits and khichdi), tarpaulin, potable water and medical teams, have been sent to the affected areas in Siliguri town on Sunday. “Siliguri received record rainfall of over 337.4 mm yesterday. We had received no warning from the government, otherwise we could have shifted people,” said the CPM leader. “Small landslides have been reported from across the hills… The Naxalbari area has been badly affected,” he added.