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The return to normalcy seems to be a long road ahead.

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IPRI # 75, 28 June 2020

Cyclone Amphan: West Bengal, Odisha limp back to a distorted normalcy

  Sudip Kumar Kundu

The extremely severe cyclonic storm, identified as ‘Amphan’ with a wind speed of 160-180kmph, hit the eastern coast of India, especially over the coastal states of West Bengal and the northern part of Odisha on 20 May.  The cyclone made the landfall near the Sundarbans between Digha in West Bengal and Hatiya Island in Bangladesh on the same day. Several districts including, South 24 Parganas, Kolkata, North 24 Parganas, Howrah, Hugli, and Purba Medinipur of West Bengal were affected badly due to the Amphan. The coastal districts of South 24 Parganas and Purba Medinipur also faced a storm surge of 5m due to the cyclone, apart from the strong wind and heavy rainfall. The periphery of the directly affected regions in the rest of South Bengal such as Bankura and Jhargram received high rainfall.

The coastal districts of Odisha, Balasore, Bhadrak, Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara, also received heavy rainfall. Later, the cyclonic storm entered Bangladesh in the following day and turned into a low-pressure depression after losing its strength. A month after the cyclone devasted West Bengal and Odisha, the affected communities are still struggling to cope and the survival became harder with the simultaneous burden to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Loss of Life, Uprooted Livelihoods

Within 24 hours, 200 mm to 250 mm of rainfall was recorded in coastal West Bengal.  According to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), Kolkata itself received approximately 250 mm of rainfall in the next day. More than 80 people were reported to have lost their lives due to Amphan. According to the official statement provided by the state government of West Bengal, a population of greater than 3 lakhs were evacuated as part of the disaster preparedness in anticipation of Cyclone Amphan, as per the timely meteorological forecasts of the IMD 14-days in advance as well as week-old advisories provided by the Central Government.

In terms of economic losses, West Bengal reported that Amphan had damaged nearly 1 lakh crore INR assets, directly affecting 70 per cent of the population. In many places including Kolkata, more than 5,000 big trees were uprooted along with the light posts, signal posts, and electric posts. Waterlogging was reported on arterial roads as well as residential houses in different parts of the affected regions leading to blockages and loss of the electricity supply.

The scenarios of several parts of Sundarbans like Kakdwip, Gosaba in South 24 Parganas are severe; no communication system was in operation in the immediate aftermath of the event. Most of the river barrages/dams were broken in the Sundarbans regions and residential houses, as well as agricultural lands, were submerged by salty seawater. It was difficult to distinguish between the river, roads, agricultural land in this region due to the heavy cyclonic storms. Historically, since 1737 cyclone where more than 3,000 deaths had been reported by the erstwhile East India Company, no cyclone has previously affected Kolkata so badly.

Relief Politics, Social Discontent, Administrative Quagmire

In the immediate aftermath, the situation in West Bengal was not satisfactory as many of the areas in South Bengal including Kolkata continually suffered from power failure and drinking water unavailability. On 22 May, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the affected regions and announced a relief package amounting to 1,000 crores INR and 500 crores INR for the two states respectively.

The people of these states resorted to protests for restoring their basic needs such as restoring the road networks, in the difficult circumstances attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic where the cases in Bengal were increasing rapidly. In this context, the West Bengal government was facing administrative challenges to curb the rising social discontent, and the Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee remained positive of tackling the post-cyclonic challenges and damages expected due to the event before the arrival of Amphan. The major concerns of administration was to provide for the basic needs of the affected masses - drinking water, power supply, etc.

The situation in the rest of the South Bengal remained equally critical with the total collapse of the communication systems due to cyclone.  Despite appeals from the CM, the political climate of the state was sensitive to the prohibition of the entry of opposition leader (an MP of Kharagpur, WB) by the state police quoting the COVID-19 rules of the state. This led to protests by the people on the roads peacefully until the police forcefully dispersed them. The CM attributed the delays in the progress of the rescue works to this protest, deepening the tense situation even further.

Both the National Army and National Disaster Response Forces were deployed for the smooth execution of rescue works. However, many regions in South Bengal continued to suffer from power failure and transportation blockages. Major political parties - the BJP and the Left described the scenario in Bengal as the total failure of the state government administration.

The return to normalcy seems to be a long road ahead.


Sudip Kumar Kundu is a MoES PhD Fellow at the National Institute of Advanced Studies.

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