A day after cyclone Amphan battered West Bengal, killing 72 people and flattening homes and fields across the state’s southern coastal districts, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee reached out to the Centre, requesting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to visit the state and seeking financial relief to tide over the crisis. Follow Cyclone Amphan LIVE updates
On Thursday night, the Prime Minister’s Office tweeted that Modi would travel to West Bengal and Odisha on Friday to take stock of the situation. “He will conduct aerial surveys and take part in review meetings, where aspects of relief and rehabilitation will be discussed,” the tweet read.
The PM is scheduled to land in Kolkata at 10 am, after which, sources said, he was likely to hold a meeting with Chief Minister Banerjee. They are also likely to visit Bashirhat in North 24 Parganas, one of the affected areas.
Earlier in the day, after a meeting she presided over at the state secretariat, Banerjee said: “It is a huge loss and I would request the Central government and all others to extend help and cooperate with us. Our Union Home Minister called me on phone this afternoon. We spoke about the devastation and he assured all help. I would also request the Prime Minister to visit and carry out a surveillance of Sunderbans and adjoining areas.”
Saying the cyclone hit the state when it was already dealing with the twin challenges of Covid-19 and the return of stranded migrants, the chief minister said, “We need money for relief and we need it now, not later. I had set up a Rs 200-crore Covid-19 fund, but we have already spent Rs 1,000 crore. For Covid, we have got no money from the Centre yet.”
She said the assessment of losses, which were likely to run into “lakhs of crores of rupees”, will take time since connectivity to affected areas had not been restored yet.
Announcing the setting up of a Rs 1,000-crore fund for relief and rehabilitation following Amphan, the CM also announced a compensation of Rs 2.5 lakh to the families of each of those who died.
In a tweet earlier in the day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “Have been seeing visuals from West Bengal on the devastation caused by Cyclone Amphan. In this challenging hour, the entire nation stands in solidarity with West Bengal. Praying for the well-being of the people of the state. Efforts are on to ensure normalcy.”
“Top officials are closely monitoring the situation and also working in close coordination with the West Bengal government. No stone will be left unturned in helping the affected,” his tweet read.
The Chief Minister has been vocal in her criticism of the Centre, including in the aftermath of the Bulbul cyclone in 2019 and, more recently, over the Covid outbreak, when she accused the Centre of not paying states their due. This time, however, her tone was conciliatory.
The CM informed that of the 72 deaths, 15 were in Kolkata. Connectivity and road links are yet to be established in parts of Kolkata, Howrah, Nadia, Hooghly, North and South 24-Parganas. The CM is likely to conduct an aerial survey of North and South 24-Parganas, including Sunderbans, which is among the worst affected regions.
Stressing on quality of relief and restoration work, the CM said, “The monsoon is coming and there may be floods. We have to make sure that roads and embankments are not washed away. You can also talk to [Road Transport & Highways Minister] Nitin Gadkari to coordinate repairs of state and national highways. Also, works like road clearing, repair of damaged houses, repair and cleaning of ponds, among others, should be included in MNREGS so that people get work,” she said.
She also asked her ministers to visit the affected areas while ensuring that there was no crowding and that social distancing was maintained.
Apprising the Centre of the devastation, West Bengal Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha has requested Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba for additional NDRF forces to help the state government carry out restoration work.
“We will deploy four additional teams to West Bengal. The teams are expected to reach Kolkata by 7.30 this evening to assist in the restoration work,” NDRF DG S N Pradhan said, adding that in Odisha, where the damage has not been as widespread, several evacuees have left their shelters to return home.
Two Home Ministry teams will soon visit West Bengal and Odisha to take stock of the extent of the damage caused by Amphan.
Roads and electricity remained cut off in large parts of West Bengal, including Kolkata on Thursday. According to the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, about 5,000 trees have fallen across the city while hundreds of electricity poles have been damaged.
Two unused hangars collapsed at the partially flooded Kolkata airport. Authorities said the airport was made operational from noon onwards.