Bengal is complaining about the state government’s apathy: Babul Supriyo.
NEW DELHI: Cyclone Bulbul made its landfall at the Sagar Islands in Bengal last week and claimed more than 30 lives, left over five lakh houses damaged and displaced more than 10 lakh people in the state. The state government has estimated the loss and damage caused by the cyclone to the tune of Rs 50,000 crore.
Union Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change and BJP leader Babul Supriyo was sent to Bengal’s cyclone-affected areas by the Central government to assess the situation on the ground and report back. On Wednesday, Supriyo visited the affected areas of Namkhana, Bakkhali and Diamond Harbour and following his visit to the affected areas, he spoke to The Sunday Guardian about his experience, and also about the politics of Bengal and the byelections that are due in the state. Excerpts:
Q: You just got back after visiting the cyclone-hit areas in Bengal. What has been your assessment from the ground?
A: Mamata Banerjee has been fooling the people and keeping the entire country in the dark by saying that everything is under control. The situation in the cyclone-hit areas is extremely sad; the West Bengal government has done nothing on the ground. All the people I have met and have spoken to, have equivocally said that none of them have received something as basic as rice, dal and pulses from the state government. Even tarpaulin was not provided to them, many were living under the open sky and some managed to get it on their own. Mamata Banerjee never even cared to send her MLAs and MPs to visit these areas. Neither Gram Panchayat people nor Block Development Officers are on the ground to take stock of the situation.
Q: But Mamata Banerjee has been constantly taking stock of the situation and she has said that the state government is doing everything to help the victims.
A: It is completely false when she says that she is taking care of the ground situation. People don’t even have the minimum basic things to sustain life in these areas. No one from the state government has even gone and met them. You see the videos I have put out on my Facebook and Twitter accounts; all the people have together complained about the apathy of the state government towards these people and these are people who are speaking out of helplessness; they don’t belong to any political party, they have no religion, they are simply distressed people. On paper, crores of money have been spent by the state government, but none have reached the affected people.
Q: What is the Central government doing to help these victims?
A: On Tuesday, a crisis management meeting was chaired by the Home Secretary and in consideration of what the Prime Minister has said, the Centre has told the West Bengal Chief Minister that all help will be extended by the Centre. The Centre even offered pulses, rice and dal as immediate relief measures for the state. It also offered help in terms of restoring the electricity poles and telecommunication towers that may have been destroyed by the cyclone, but the state government officials who were present said that they are assessing the ground situation and would get back to the Centre. And as per our federal structure of government, the Centre can only send help through the state government, but the last mile delivery has to be done by the state government, the gram panchayats and Block Development Officers.
Q: It is said that you were sent by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself to take stock of the situation and submit a report to his office. Have you apprised the PM of what you saw in these areas?
A: The Prime Minister is in the BRICS summit, so I have not been able to speak to him yet. I have already spoken to Home Minister Amit Shahji and our party’s national working president J.P. Naddaji. I have apprised both of them about the situation. They have asked for a written report from me, I have prepared it and sent it along with all the photographs and videos I had taken.
Q: What is the Bengal unit of the BJP doing to help these victims? Are the BJP MPs from Bengal contemplating to contribute to help the victims?
A: We cannot give away funds from our MPLAD directly to the people, either in form of cash or cheques. The system of the country is such that in can be contributed to the State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF), but then you know how much of the money from these funds reaches the actual beneficiaries. Politically, we can set up 20-30 camps and give them food, but then that is not a permanent solution. The permanent solution lies in the government machinery and the state government must be there by the side of the victims.
Q: There are byelections coming up in the three Assembly seats in Bengal. How confident is the BJP about winning this time around?
A: Despite the kind of muscle power and malpractice that the Trinamool Congress (TMC) is using and which they do in every election, we are very confident of winning all three, especially the Kharagpur seat—we are 100% confident.
Q: Don’t you think the issue of NRC (National Register of Citizens) which somewhat backfired on the BJP in Bengal would cause some dent for the party in this election?
A: I definitely don’t think so. Although the TMC has tried very hard to confuse the people and scare them with the NRC, the fact remains that Amit Shahji has very clearly said that the without the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) being passed in Parliament, the NRC will not be conducted in Bengal. Once the CAB is done and then NRC is brought, people will accept it.
Q: Has the BJP been able to send this message across to the people, as most people in Bengal are very sceptical about NRC?
A: We are doing it; I will be going there to campaign, we will make the people understand and this very strongly needs to be communicated to the people of Bengal because they are not really sure about the differences between the CAB and NRC. A lot of misinformation is being planted by the TMC for vested interest. We are going to take that message to the people and counter the false propaganda that the TMC is spreading.