Kolkata staggers even 72 hours after Amphan as Didi too is ‘powerless’

Cyclone damages even world’s largest banyan tree, aged 342 years, at botanical garden in Howrah

The Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation said it would not be possible to restore power in all localities until the broken trees were removed from electric wires and posts. Photo: Samir K Purkayastha

Almost 72 hours after cyclone Amphan had calmed, Kolkata continues to be in a mangled mess of uprooted trees, bent mobile towers, upturned electric posts, twisted vehicles, rampaged parks and gardens, and battered buildings.

To add to these palpable signs of destruction, power outage, coupled with water shortage and disruption of telecommunication and internet networks, continue to fester as grim reminders of the ill-fated Wednesday night.

Even Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is left with no electricity and mobile connectivity. “Amar bariteo line nei, bhooter moto achi (There is no electricity even in my house. Living is almost a primitive existence),” she said.

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Even her phone went dead, the Chief Minister said. “I am not being able to communicate properly with my Chief Secretary (Rajiva Sinha) and with district authorities,” she added.

Related News: After request by Bengal govt, Army deployed in cyclone-ravaged area for restoration

The Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation (CESC) said it would not be possible to restore power in all localities until the broken trees were removed from electric wires and posts. Unless electricity is not completely restored, water scarcity will remain, civic authorities said. The power outage has also compounded the problem of mobile connectivity.

State Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim, who is also the chairman of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s board of administrators, said it would take another six to seven days for the city to become normal, adding the government had no magic wand to clean up the colossal mess left behind by the monstrous cyclone, Amphan.

The cyclone uprooted around 5,000 trees in the city. The world’s largest banyan tree, aged 342 years, with its peripheral stem measuring over 1.08 km at the botanical garden in Howrah, Kolkata’s twin, was also damaged.

As the civic body finds itself overwhelmed with the gigantic task of clearing the city of litters, youth, who have been rendered jobless by the ongoing lockdown, took up the task of cutting trees to earn some money in several localities.

Related News: Amphan damages idols, workshops at Kumartuli, Kolkata’s idol-making hub

Residents pulled in money to pay these amateur woodcutters without waiting for the municipality workers to turn up to clean their alleys. “Municipality workers are mostly focusing on clearing the main thoroughfares leaving lanes and by-lanes in disarray,” said Apurba Mazumdar of Nabapalli in Joka, Kolkata.

The professional artist said the residents had been facing a lot of difficulties in the last four days without water and electricity in this sultry summer.

So, when Pintu Das, a youth who works as an auto driver, offered to chop off an uprooted mango tree, which was precariously tilting on an electric post, they were too willing to hire him and his two friends for ₹2,000.

At Kalitala in Thakurpukur, taxi driver Ranjit Naskar teamed up with plumber Shibu Jana and a van rickshaw puller Chotu Naskar to cut trees.

“For the last two months, my earnings have become almost zero. Though the government, of late, has allowed taxies to ply, there is hardly any passenger,” he said, explaining his desperation to take up the axe, long discarded in one corner of his house.

Related News: Amphan: Bengal asks Railways not to send special trains till May 26

Similar provisional woodcutters had been going around other localities of the city in the last two days hoping to get some employment in this otherwise “dry” season.

Meanwhile, the state government held an emergency meeting with CESC officials on Saturday (May 23) to expedite power restoration and bring life in the city back on track. The situation has become so desperate that normal functioning got disrupted even in the secretariat, the Nabanna, the ‘war room’ of the state’s rebuilding exercise.

“The internet service was patchy, but workable until Thursday (May 21). But it totally collapsed since Friday (May 22), forcing officials to reply on police wireless communication to communicate with administrative officials of the cyclone ravaged districts,” a senior bureaucrat said.

Telecom operators have blamed that damage of cell towers, fibre cable cuts and power outage have interrupted their services. Only a leading telecom company could maintain some semblance of service since the cyclone hit the state.

Related News: People at a loss after Cyclone Amphan wreaks havoc on livelihoods

Telecom networks can be normalised only after the power supply is restored, said a senior official of the telecom service provider.

Those mobile towers which had not been damaged by the cyclone are now running on backup power from diesel generators, the official said. But these DG sets cannot be run continuously for more than eight hours.

Sources said many towers in the city allegedly had no proper power backup. Around 1,000 mobile towers across the state were destroyed by Amphan.

Meanwhile, protests continued in various parts of the city for the second consecutive day due to the continued absence of utility services.

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