How Amphan helped labourers, electricians in West Bengal regain their livelihood

Sneha Das
Saturday, 30 May 2020

The strong winds accompanied by heavy winds made its landfall on May 20, a Wednesday, leaving a trail of distress and misery. 

Uprooted trees tangled with wires, fallen lamp posts, waterlogged streets with bodies floating because of electrocution and shattered glasses all over the road. Sounds like a Jurassic Park scene with the T-Rex just moving out of the screen, right? Ten days later, the scars are still fresh. The images from West Bengal continues to haunt. 

Still grappled in the clutches of COVID-19, Kolkata had to fight the disastrous and calamitous super-cyclone Amphan which had left a catastrophic effect on the city of joy. The strong winds accompanied by heavy winds made its landfall on May 20, a Wednesday, leaving a trail of distress and misery. 

If the rampage caused by the natural disaster wasn’t enough, people had to deal with the aftermath. Most of the State was left without water, power and faced mobile network issues. The communication system was stalled, leading to chaos. While at one end, the dictum from the administration was social distancing, there were homeless people on the streets whose abodes were damaged, many others hit the streets to find drinking water, and some stepped out to beat the heat to which the power cuts were catalysts.

The Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC), as well as the CESC departments, faced a major shortage of workforce, making it difficult for them to tackle the stressful situation. Limited labour was available for clearing the fallen trees, detangling the wires and restoring electricity back. As most parts of the city were covered in the dark, the extreme heat and shortage of water that continued for five days in a row made it tough for the citizens to survive which in turn had left an enormous pressure on the departments. In many areas, the people even took out to protests, blocked roads showing their disappointment towards the government’s action towards this sudden crisis. But CESC tried their best to restore all connections. 

In many areas, CESC workers removed the trees, detangled the wires as well as restored power. “We have been vastly affected by the pandemic; more than 50 per cent of our workforce are at their home state because of the lockdown, but we are trying to use our available workforce in a more systematic and calculated way, helping in all the ways possible. We have successfully restored electricity in 90% of the areas. We are still working with full support from the government and police officials.” A CESC employee said. 

But as the famous proverb says “One man’s loss is another man’s gain” has turned into a matter of fact, giving a better view of reality amidst the cyclonic destruction. 

Despite having shattered a large part of Bengal, the cyclone it came as a bitter pill having some blessed impact on the poor and unemployed labourers, electricians and daily wage workers, allowing them to restore their lost work and income as they were left jobless for the past two months because of the Coronavirus lockdown. 

Various local electricians and manual workers have been hired by the authorities of the civil government to work for renewing the operations and contribute to normalising the situation. The South Dum Dum and North Dum Dum municipal authorities have also included local labourers to remove trees blocking the roads providing them with payment daily. 

“KMC has involved local workers and electricians as well to remove the trees and detangle the wires since the staff was limited in the KMC departments, and it was difficult for the CESC to work like that. It definitely helped local labourers in a better way. They were paid accordingly for their labour.” said Sasti Das, a TMC councillor from the 76 number ward. 

Tultul Patra, a local electrician in Kidderpore area, feels blessed to get back his livelihood after a period of more than two months. “This storm was deadly; we never thought something like this would happen here. But now I realise that though it shattered the entire city but came as a disguise for poor people like us. I was jobless; people were not allowing us much to enter their homes to maintain safety. I have two children, and it was becoming difficult for us to survive like this as the lockdown was extending every month. But since Wednesday, I’m getting calls every day, either to repair electrical wires, appliances or water pumps. I’m a lot relieved now.”

“People are literally chasing me for doing their restoration or repair work. They are fighting with each other on who would receive the first service. I never imagined something like this would happen during such a major crisis. I feel blessed to gain my means of living.” he said. 

The residents being helpless had to keep aside the COVID-19 scare and restore as well as repair whatever has been damaged at their homes as the cyclone raged through Bengal. 

Koushik Mazumder, a resident of Parnasree area in South Kolkata, says, “We have been living without water and electricity for the past five days. After we got back to power in our locality, our ceiling fan was causing some disturbance as well as our water pump was not working at all. Clean drinking water being a necessity; we had to call the local electrician and plumber. All this while we were avoiding anyone from outside to maintain safety, but this time we had no other option.”

Subrata Biswas, an owner of an electrical appliance shop in the fancy market area of Kidderpore who also looks after his cable TV business, says, “I am getting calls every day for restoring networks of cable TV and wifi, people are even calling up for repairing their refrigerators, air conditioners, fans and other appliances since the cyclone has caused severe damage to various machines.”

“My earnings have improved after the cyclone. I didn’t have that much customer base after the lockdown was declared, we were forced to close the shops, and our business came to a halt,” he added. 

In various part of South Kolkata, residents have been provided with temporary electricity. But their safety becomes questionable since many engineers and electricians have commented on the networks being unsafe and unstable. But the government and all these departments are working hard each and every day to restore all the operations as soon as possible and ensure normalcy in the State. 

“The work that is going on is unimaginable and commendable at the same time. With this much labour, it isn’t easy to work honestly. In my area, local technicians, electricians and workers are doing a great job, and I am quite happy on how the work is progressing.” a West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (WBSEDCL) staff said. 

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