PM announces Rs 1000 crore aid for Bengal; toll at 86


KOLKATA/BHUBANESWAR/NEW DELHI: PM Narendra Modi on Friday announced interim central assistance of Rs 1,000 crore to West Bengal and Rs 500 crore to Odisha after an aerial survey of the devastation wrought by cyclone Amphan, especially in south Bengal, where the death toll was revised to 86 after government agencies were able to reach areas inaccessible for two days.
On his first trip outside the national capital since the countrywide lockdown started, PM Modi said the loss of lives, homesteads, infrastructure and standing crops were a double whammy for Bengal after being hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Staying home and social distancing are the safeguards against corona, whereas moving out from homes and reaching safer places are advisable in case of a cyclone. The state had to fight the two challenges together. However, West Bengal, under Mamata ji, has tried to fight strongly,” he said in an eight-minute video message from Basirhat in North 24-Parganas district.
Expressing solidarity with Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, who has had run-ins with the Centre on multiple issues, Modi said, “The Centre was in constant touch with the state government and the two jointly worked hard. Still, over 80 people lost their lives, which saddens me.”
He announced ex gratia of Rs 2 lakh to the families of the deceased and Rs 50,000 to the injured from the PM’s Relief Fund.
The PM said a central team would visit the state soon and both the governments would “work together for the rehabilitation, restoration and reconstruction of the West Bengal”.
He and Mamata held an hour-long administrative meeting in Basirhat.
Mamata later said she urged the PM to “release quickly whatever money” the Centre wanted to give. “I did not ask for anything (from the PM). I only urged him to release the money fast, whatever the Centre wants. Else, we will have to start work on our own. Repair of embankments and restoration of power lines cannot wait. The state has already put aside Rs 1,000 crore on its own for restoration work. We also want the centre to release the Rs 53,000 crore it owes us (by way of devolution of funds, food subsidy and other social schemes).”
Preliminary estimates by the state government peg the extent of damage caused by Amphan at “Rs 1 lakh crore at least”.
“Vast areas have gone under water following the damage in embankments. Power lines got snapped, crops went under water. There has been immense damage to houses, livestock and fisheries,” Mamata said.
Modi’s flight had touched down at Kolkata airport at 10.45am, after which he had a 45-minute chopper ride with Mamata and governor Jagdeep Dhankhar over stretches of Minakha, Hingalganj, Basirhat and Rajarhat in North 24-Parganas and Bhangar, Patharpratima, Namkhana and Gosaba in South 24-Parganas.
Union minister of state Babul Supriyo described the Basirhat meeting between Modi and Mamata as a discussion between two “able administrators”.
“The CM thanked the PM several times; the PM did the same to the CM,” he said. “This is not the time for politics,” his ministerial colleague Debasree Chaudhuri said.
The only discordant note was struck by Bengal BJP president and MP Dilip Ghosh. “I want the PM to transfer the compensation to the next of kin of the dead directly to their Jan Dhan accounts; else, the money may not reach them.”
The Left Front and Congress criticised the Centre for “doing too little”.
After an aerial survey of northern Odisha later in the day, PM Modi hailed the state for its preparedness to face the cyclone, which affected 44 lakh people and damaged one lakh hectares of standing crops. No loss of life was reported.
“At a time when everyone is busy fighting Covid-19, we had a super cyclone. This was a matter of grave concern. But because of the well-established process in Odisha, there was huge success in saving lives. Everybody, down to the village level, knew what had to be done. For this, the citizens of Odisha, chief minister Sriman Naveen (Patnaik) babu and his entire team deserve praise,” Modi said in Bhubaneswar.


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