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I haven’t seen such a disaster in my entire life: Mamata BanerjeeDeaths have occurred in eight districts, including 15 in Kolkata PM to survey Bengal, Odisha today; Mamata sets up ₹1,000 crore fundCasualties were due to falling of trees, electrocution, house collapse

Extensive damage: A bus that got crushed after a tree fell on it when cyclone Amphan swept through Kolkata.PTI-

The death toll in Super Cyclone Amphan in West Bengal increased to 72, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said on Thursday. Fifteen of the deceased were from Kolkata, she said.

Ms. Banerjee, who met senior officials at the State Secretariat to take stock of the damage, said she had not seen such a disaster in her life. “I haven’t seen such a disaster in my entire life. I will ask the Prime Minister to visit the State and see it for himself.”

She said Union Home Minister Amit Shah had called her up, and she informed him of the enormity of the disaster. She said the impact of the cyclone was so severe that Nabanna, the State Secretariat building, shook.

Deaths were reported from eight districts. South 24 Parganas recorded the maximum of 18 deaths, followed by North 24 Parganas with 17 deaths. People also died in Howrah, Hooghly, Purba Medinipur and Nadia. The deaths were mainly due to the falling of trees, electrocution and the collapse of poorly built houses.

Such areas as Kakdwip and Namkhana in South 24 Parganas and Minakha and Hingalganj in North 24 Parganas were the worst affected by the cyclone, which made landfall near Sagar Island. Damage has been reported from eight districts, but the maximum damage has occurred in the coastal districts, including South and North 24 Parganas. Thousands of ‘katcha’ houses were damaged in the two districts and a large part of the Sunderbans police district was inundated because of the storm surge, which was four-five metres above the tide level.

Ms. Banerjee said she would visit the affected areas after three to four days, once connectivity was restored. “There is no telephone connection and there is no electricity in these parts of the State.” She said the government had set up a ₹1,000-crore relief fund. The government has evacuated five lakh people and kept them in cyclone shelters.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will travel to West Bengal and Odisha on Friday to take stock of the situation, the Prime Minister’s Office said. “He will conduct aerial surveys and take part in review meetings,” the PMO said in a tweet.

India rejects China’s claims of trespass into its territory

Anurag Srivastava

New Delhi on Thursday rejected Beijing’s claim that Indian troops trespassed into Chinese territory, and accused the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of “hindering” patrols by Indian soldiers.

In the first such statement after weeks of a stand-off between Indian and Chinese soldiers at four points along the boundary in Sikkim and Ladakh, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) also told China that “peace and tranquility in border areas” is an “essential prerequisite” to developing bilateral relations.

“Any suggestion that Indian troops had undertaken activity across the LAC [Line of Actual Control] in the Western Sector or the Sikkim Sector is not accurate. Indian troops are fully familiar with the LAC alignment in the India-China border areas and abide by it scrupulously,” said MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava.

“All Indian activities are entirely on the Indian side of the LAC. In fact, it is the Chinese side that has recently undertaken activity hindering India’s normal patrolling patterns,” he observed.

Travellers must check in online before reaching the airport

The Centre on Thursday set a price range for air tickets, which would be a function of the flight duration when commercial airlines resume operations on May 25. The scale has been divided into seven categories, with the lowest range defined for flights of less than 40 minutes and the highest category set for the longest domestic flights of up to 210 minutes.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation, which announced the price range as part of the guidelines prepared ahead of the resumption of flights, laid down several other norms, including a mandatory check in by travellers either online or on the phone before reaching the airport.

Medical details must

They would be allowed to complete the check-in only after providing medical details either through the Aarogya Setu app or a self-declaration form. A senior official said passengers would be “nudged” to use Aarogya Setu. To start with, airlines would operate 33% of flights, with operations increasing based on the experience of airlines, airports and other stakeholders.

Rajasthan town sets example in COVID-19 battle

Screening for COVID-19 under way at the Government Girls Higher Secondary School in Pidawa, Rajasthan.T.R. Sirvi

The picturesque road to Pidawa crosses streams, lush farmlands, rolling hills, and the former ‘badlands’ which are the border areas between Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Pidawa is a small town in the middle of the sliver of Rajasthan that thrusts into Madhya Pradesh. And like many of the habitations in this part of the country, Pidawa too benefitted over the last couple of centuries from a ‘black gold’ rush.

Unlike the better known hydrocarbon of the same name, this ‘black gold’ is extracted from a plant, Papaver somniferum, and is then processed to make opium and its many derivatives. In fact these ‘badlands’ hosted a part of the production facilities that provided the fuel which ignited the Anglo-Chinese Opium Wars of 1839-42 and 1856-60. But those days are long gone, and what is now grown is largely legal, although a portion does slip through the system to reach consumers on the western side of Rajasthan.

It was another kind of slip through the system that set off a major scare in Pidawa during early April and resulted in the imposition of a stringent curfew across the town. The slip would have gone undetected but for an alert Dr. Raees at the Pidawa Community Health Centre, where Khalida Bi died on April 4.

Those were the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, and the contagion had yet to enter this isolated corner of Jhalawar district, in Rajasthan. On an impulse, Dr. Raees decided to test the family members who had handled the body before burial. They were asked to go to Jhalawar on April 5 to be tested but proved elusive.

Party rolls out assistance plan for farmers in Chhattisgarh on Rajiv Gandhi’s death anniversary

Homage: Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel paying tribute to Rajiv Gandhi in Raipur on Thursday. PTI

Launching the Rajiv Gandhi Kisan Nyay Yojana in Chhattisgarh through video conferencing to mark the 29th death anniversary, Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Thursday said this was a true tribute to the late Prime Minister.

The party also announced that instead of spending on advertisements to mark the occasion, it would spend the amount on helping migrants who have borne the brunt of the prolonged lockdown in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Such schemes should be implemented at the ground level to help bring a change in the lives of people. This is a revolutionary scheme and is a true tribute to Rajiv Gandhi. This is a big step taken in line with the values of Rajiv Gandhi,” Ms. Gandhi said.

The online event, however, was marked with several audio and video glitches that somewhat curtailed the party’s top leaders’ speeches.

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel said the assured monetary assistance scheme will benefit 19 lakh farmers and help bring more area under cultivation. Landless labour and agriculturists would be covered in the next phase, he said.

Former party president Rahul Gandhi lauded Chhattisgarh for being the first State to transfer financial aid directly into the accounts of farmers.

‘A true patriot’

“The Chhattisgarh government has set the example for the country on how to help people in the time of crisis,” he said at the launch event.

Mr. Gandhi also remembered his father as a “true patriot, liberal and who put the country on the path of progress and self-reliance with his farsightedness”. “In memory of my beloved father, Shri Rajiv Gandhi, who was martyred this day in 1991. He was a wonderful father; gentle, kind, compassionate and patient. I miss him. But he will always stay alive in my heart and in the wonderful memories I have of him,” he wrote on Twitter

His sister and party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra posted her last photo with her father and shared an emotional tweet.

“To be kind to those who are unkind to you; to know that life is fair, no matter how unfair you imagine it to be; to keep walking, no matter how dark the skies or fearsome the storm; to nurture a strong heart, and fill it with love no matter how great its sorrows; these are the gifts of my father’s life,” she tweeted.

Access to essentials and financial aid among key problems

Avoidable problems: Challenges for those with disabilities could have been addressed, the report said. AP

Limited access to doorstep delivery of essentials, government helplines and financial assistance from the government were among the key problems faced by persons with disability, according to a report on ‘status of persons with disabilities in India during the COVID-19 crisis’, released by the National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP) on Thursday.

The report included responses from 19 disability sector leaders across the States and recommended enforcing the government guidelines and securing financial support to all persons with disabilities.

“Many of the challenges confronting persons with disabilities during the lockdown could have been addressed had the government duly enforced its own directives”, the report said.

The report comprised data from a survey of 1,067 (approx. 73% male, 27% female) persons with disabilities, which showed that over 73% of those interviewed were facing severe challenges due to the lockdown.

Interviews with a sub-sample of 201 persons with disabilities from across India showed that 67% had no access to doorstep delivery of essentials, and only 22% confirmed that they have access to essentials. 48% had no access to a government helpline, and 63% had not received the financial assistance for persons with disabilities announced by the Finance Ministry.

The report stated that these and other similar issues could have been taken care of if the ‘Comprehensive Disability Inclusive Guidelines’ issued by the Central Government’s Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities (DEPwD) had been uniformly enforced across the country.

The guidelines provided for such critical requirements as ensuring that “persons with disabilities are given access to essential food, water, medicine, and, to the extent possible, such items should be delivered at their residence or place where they have been quarantined.”

As per the NCPEDP report, some States, including Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Nagaland and Assam did provide good support to those with disabilities.

K. Srinath Reddy, president, Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) said that persons with disabilities were particularly vulnerable during periods of lockdown as their usual difficulties in securing services or procuring essential goods were greatly amplified. It was absolutely essential that the administration paid special attention to their needs. Usual caregivers too were immobile during a lockdown and even persons with low levels of dependency were hindered by the restraint. “The attention we pay to the pressing needs of persons with disability is the hallmark of a sensitive society and the symbol of caring administration.”

Arman Ali, executive director, NCPEDP, said the government must secure inclusive response and mitigation not just in the present crisis, but also in any ‘subsequent wave that may well hit us sooner than we think’.

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