From the rubble of his house, destroyed by the rising sea waters, Sheikh Jiyad built yet another dwelling — for the third time in his life. Every time the sea claimed his land and house, he started afresh.
“I had about two bighas of land and cultivated betel leaves. But I lost all to the sea,” he told The Hindu .
A few metres away lives Ram Kumar Rout, once a wealthy farmer, who fears that his new house will be gobbled up by the water.
This is a problem faced by the people of Ghoramara, an island on the southernmost tip of West Bengal in the South 24 Parganas district, which has been sinking slowly.
“Earlier, erosion would occur in the rainy season only but now every month acres of land are washed away,” Mr. Rout said.
As many as 3,000 voters of Ghoramara will vote on Saturday. Thirty-one seats in South Parganas will be covered in the fifth phase — 12 are in the Sundarbans, an ecologically fragile ecosystem where climate change poses a major threat, jeopardising life and livelihood of at least two million voters.
Sitting with his supporters is Sanjib Sagar, pradhan of the smallest gram panchayat in West Bengal. He talks about how Trinamool Congress MLA Bankim Hazra spent lakhs of rupees to prevent erosion. “He tried his best to help us, but can a man fight the sea,” he asks.
Mr. Sagar, who is confident that Mr. Hazra will be elected again, is aware of the gravity of situation. He tells the villagers that a unique variety of grass would be cultivated in areas with high erosion, with the help of international experts, to save the land.
“Steps to strengthen the embankments with concrete and other measures to control erosion should be given priority,” Upasona Ghosh, senior research officer of the IIHMR University, said.
Mousuni is another island under the Sagar Assembly seat with a population of over 40,000. In the past five years, erosion in Mousuni has affected at least 10,000 people, said Sheikh Ilias, who heads the CPI(M)-controlled panchayat.
“During every tide, sea water breaches the embankment and destroys crops. The government has not done anything in the past five years,” he said.
Tuhin Ghosh, faculty at Jadavapur University’s School of Oceanographic studies, said while there was no uniform policy of compensation to those affected, policy makers also lacked a roadmap to deal with the issue. Only a few years ago, a report, “Indian Sunderbans Delta: A Vision”, by WWF India and Jadavpur University had predicted that more than a million people would need to be relocated from the Sundarbans by 2050.