In most of our earlier visits we barely found time to distribute the food and rush back for the return journey. This time Debajyoti da and myself snatched ourselves out of the distribution and tried to carry out a survey to assess some of the ground realities as on date.
This exercise took us to some new localities in Chargheri and Bidhan Colony. Sharing with you some snaps and videos of these places (links in red):
People working on earthwork for the bund
These people are cutting earth from the spoiled agricultural lands to build up / repair the bunds. I hope that is advisable to be done on agricultural land, and does not damage long term prospects of the productivity of this .
Hopefully we will see them cultivating alternative crops on these fields this coming winter after due training. Certainly the normal crop, rice, is set to return within 2 years. Now does this earth cutting from surface of these fields hurt any or both of those prospects? I wish I knew...
A shot of Chargheri on our way to Kakmari Bazar
[not much to add to that snap - we have earlier published a number of pix like that one]
House damaged by Aila but saved from collapse due to presence of 'konchi' (bamboo) reinforcement in mud walls
We found only two "pucca" buildings on the route from distribution point to Kakmari bazar which was close to 2 km away from distribution point (We made this journey via an unpaved and undulating dyke where walking barefoot can cause foot pain to unaccustomed feet - ask me!). None of these were residential houses. We saw evidence that water had reached above window top level in many of the intact houses. The houses that had bamboo stick (‘konchi’) reinforcement in walls managed to keep standing (even after mud was washed away) via support from the bamboo sticks. This house (in above pic) with ‘reinforced walls’ told the story clearly: in the picture we can see that the ‘konchi’s are showing up to man height with no mud around them – and ABOVE it the konchi’s are disappearing into mud still left intact.
Some of the standing houses have been repaired back with thatched roof and applying mud back on the walls. The houses that had walls of pure mud are all erased.
"Aise ujde aashiyaane tinke ud gaye"
This is how some of the occupants of those erased houses are living now.
They are literally living on the road....
The boundary point of Chargheri and Bidhan Colony
[hope that fishing net used as a fence is not the administration's brainchild while marking the boundary...]
The primary school located OUTSIDE the old bund
The old bund near this school was seriously damaged but the school would have been inundated in Aila even if the bund were intact. This primary school in Bidhan Colony is strangely outside of the main bund / dyke and it is at quite a low level as well. In other words, it was always exposed to forces of nature and tidal variations as the bund does NOT protect it.
This omission of a government primary school outside bund premise may look like a surprising flaw in layout of the bund, but we need to remember that pieces of land keep surfacing in these areas every year due to silting. It is quite possible that this school is located in a land area that surfaced AFTER construction of bund. It can (un)safely be expected that there are many such areas across these region. Hopefully the new 'Ring bund', currently under construction, will bring these buildings within the ambit of safety.
The new "Ring Bund" under construction
[This picture is taken facing the river and the old bund is behind the photographer Debu da when this picture was taken. We can see the primary school being covered by this new ring bund.
This video, shot from atop the old bund, shows the above photograph being taken and also indicates the topography near the school]
Bund damage near Kakmari bazar southside approach
[The above video, along with this snap by Debu da, bears testimony of the magnitude of nature's fury faced by these bunds on 25th May 2009. Even after nearly 3 months of restoration work the bund still looks like having been hit by a disaster in very recent past. ]
PAKT discussing with people at Kakmari bazar
Kakmari bazar video 1
Kakmari bazar video 2
On the return journey from Kakmari to distribution point, we met Shri Girindranath Paik and Shri Ajit Kumar Biswas. Both are from Chargheri.
Girindranath Paik is a familiar face at relief distribution (he generally has something to say or some request to make). We met him on the way back and he dragged me to his house. Apparently the water logged lands seen behind the hutments in this snap are land belong to him.
Ajit Kumar Biswas' story is a little intriguing. Ajit is apparently a graduate who has not managed to get a coveted government job. He has a small piece of land and used to cultivate it before Aila. But the returns from his small piece of land were insufficent to support his young . He used to supplement his income by giving tuitions. Even Rabindranath Gayen, the respected primary school teacher of Bidhan Colony that we met during survey at Kakmari bazar, used to be his student. He is apparently well liked by people (certainly by Girindranath Paik) and also does some book keeping for shops. He wished to opt out of the area if he gets a job outside, as both his vocations have stopped now. He stays in a makeshift hutment reconstructed from his damaged mudhut. Like many other families, both he and his wife do menial labour on earthwork related to bund repair these days in order to sustain themselves.
Ajit brought me up to the fact that the dewatering of fields has taken place only at specific areasm lostly near the periphery of the island (we used to see it happen at our distribution point) but many fields in the interiors are still flooded with brackish water. The small sluice gate does not help at all as it prevents effective flushing out of the brackish water in a heavy rainfall.
Critical concern: We have requested assistance from PRISM in order to arrange for alternative crop training in fields damaged by brackish water with an aim to have some vegetables grown on these fields by this winter. We are driving to expedite this training. But the least that is required for some of these farmers we are trying to help is the stagnated brackish water to be removed from their fields. We are talking to people related to administration but we still do not know how to solve that critical first part (i.e. dewatering agricultural lands that are still under water) in our attempt to get these people back on fields.