A new rights organisation brings focus back to climate-resilient development in Sunderbans

Better river dam, land lease documents, road connectivity and mitigation of problems of migrants were some of the demands raised at the 1st meeting

By Sudarshana Chakraborty
Published: Thursday 09 September 2021

The daily lives of the residents of Sunderbans is fraught with unique challenges and Sunderban Shramajeebi Adhikar Raksha Samiti (South 24 Parganas), a newly formed residents’ committee, is trying to work out sustainable solutions. 

It becomes impossible to get drinking water when it rains, said Jamuna Haldar, a 60-year-old resident said at the first meeting of the committee at Mathurapur, South 24 Paraganas. “The only deep tube well is three kilometres away. The entire area is under saline water. How will we survive like this?” she added. 

Residents of Kultali, Patharpratima, Mathurapur, Raidighi face similar problems. Saline water after monsoon or seasonal cycles have swamped their agricultural lands and ponds for decades.  

The impact of extreme weather events has intensified over the delta in the Bay of Bengal due to climate change. Major cyclones like Aila, Amphan, Bulbul and Yaas in the last decade ravaged its mangrove forests that protects its topography and ecosystems. 

Villagers of all ages, gender, religion and caste from these blocks attended the meeting in hundreds to share their story and show solidarity for the body. 

They expressed their demands for better river dams, land lease documents, road connectivity and mitigation of problems of migrants. 

“After every spell of heavy rainfall, the river dams collapses,” pointed out Sahibuddin, one of the participants. The Panchayats do not pay heed to their suggestions or demands regarding these infrastructural problems that threaten their livelihoods, he added. “Although there is a minister for Sunderban Development, the state government lacks major planning regarding Sunderbans.”

Many of them don’t have land-lease documents and cannot seek compensation.

Students complained that lack of good road connectivity makes it difficult for them to reach school and prepare for a career beyond agriculture and fishing that have failed to sustain their livelihoods. 

Even those with agricultural land have not been able to manage two square meals a day amid the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and repeated cyclones. 

Now, they want to take control of the situation and work for wholesome development of the region. 

“The solution to the drinking water problem in the entire region of Sunderban is rainwater harvesting.  Dam-like structures with higher walls to keep out saline water have to be made to harvest rainwater,” according to environmentalist and Sunderban expert Amitava Aich.

Deep tube wells, reverse osmosis are other methods he suggested. 

Concrete dams may not be the best solution because they are expensive and may collapse in 5-10 years, he added. 

“The dams are made right beside the rivers with very little mangrove forest support around. The agricultural fields or fish ponds begin right where the dams end. This is a terrible way to construct dams,” Aich said. 

The West Bengal government plans to start research on how to make the existing dams safe and sustainable naturally, he added. 

He also suggested building seed repositories of indigenous seeds that will thrive in the area.  

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