Once bitten, twice shy.
Taking a cue from anomalies spotted in providing compensation in the aftermath of Cyclone Amphan last year, the West Bengal government has reversed the process of relief distribution to people affected by Cyclone Yaas.
This time, the state government will set up camps for the affected people to submit their claims, instead of the local bodies preparing a list of victims and making estimation of damage, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced on Thursday (May 27).
The Chief Minister’s decision is influenced by the charges of corruption against TMC functionaries during calamity-relief distribution after Cyclone Amphan last year.
The change in approach towards compensating victims of natural calamities is part of the Trinamool Congress government’s decision to outspread its governance-at-doorstep model, called ‘Duare Sarkar’ programme, introduced at the fag-end of its second tenure to offset anti-incumbency.
How will cyclone victims be compensated this time?
Claim applications will be accepted in the camps from June 3 to 18. Applications will be verified and reviewed from June 19 to 30. From July one, the compensation money will be directly transferred to the bank accounts of the victims.
A compensation of Rs 25,000 per household will be paid to those whose house was completely destroyed in the cyclone. For partial damage, Rs 5,000 will be paid per household.
A one-time grant of Rs 10,000 will be paid to those whose boat has been wrecked. For the partial damage of a boat the compensation amount will be Rs 5,000.
The government will pay Rs 30,000 for the death of each cow/buffalo.
Varied rates of compensation have also been fixed for the affected farmers, weavers and fishermen, as per government sources.
An initial fund of Rs 1,000 crore has been set up to provide compensation to the victims of Cyclone Yaas that ravaged the state on Wednesday ( May 26), damaging over 3 lakh houses in coastal districts of the state and inundating hundreds of acres of farm land and fisheries.
The state government’s initial estimate pegged the overall loss at Rs 20,000 crore. This includes damage to the state’s assets such as roads and embankments.
Why was the compensation process changed?
In the normal course, the panchayat and other local bodies prepare a list of victims and make estimation of damage.
“This time, as per the instruction of the chief minister, the people themselves will submit their claim at the special camps to be set up under the government’s Duare Tran (relief at doorstep) programme,” said an official of the state’s panchayats and rural development department.
The change in approach has been brought about as there were large-scale irregularities in identifying Amphan victims.
Relatives of several panchayat functionaries of the ruling TMC had been enlisted for ex-gratia despite not being affected by the cyclone. Many TMC panchayats and block-level leaders were also accused of forcing cyclone victims to pay “cut-money”, a euphemism for bribes taken to provide benefits of government handouts and compensations.
Charges of corruption and taking “cut money” against the TMC functionaries were not limited to calamity-relief distribution alone. Other government welfare schemes and even ration distribution too were marred by similar allegations and became a major poll-issue ahead of assembly elections earlier this year.
‘Duare Sarkar’ programme
As a course-correction measure, the TMC government launched its “Duare Sarkar” programme for delivery of its welfare schemes at the doorsteps of the people through outreach camps organised at the gram panchayat and municipal ward levels.
Over 2.75 crore people visited 32,830 camps across the state to avail benefits of the programme run for over 60 days.
The camps succeeded in blunting the graft charges against the ruling TMC as had been evident from its spectacular victory in the elections.
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The government has now decided to further expand this model. It has already rolled out its promised “Duare Ration” programme as pilot projects in 22 districts of the state. Under the programme, the government will provide free doorstep delivery of monthly rations.
The launch of the programme is one of the first decisions the new government has taken.
“This time the government’s delivery mechanism will be at the doorstep of the people from the very beginning,” said the official.
Apart from these special initiatives, the government also plans to conduct “Duare Sarkar” camps twice a year to make welfare schemes more accessible to the people, the official added.
CM demands Rs 20,000 crore relief package from PM Modi
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday (May 28) met Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Kalaikunda in West Midnapore district and submitted a preliminary report of the damage caused by Cyclone Yaas. The PM is in Bengal to review the situation in the aftermath of the cyclone.
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The state government demanded a special financial package of Rs 10,000 crore for development of Sunderbans and another Rs 10,000 crore for rebuilding of cyclone-ravaged coastal town of Digha, a tourist hotspot of the state.
Banerjee, however, did not attend the review meeting with Modi, saying she had to “rush to Digha.”
Sources, however, said the chief minister skipped the meeting since the PM invited former Mamata aide and BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari in an “official event.”