n July, 2014 when the hut of 50-year-old Kalpana Mondal and many others residing on the edge of Mousani Island of southern Sundarbans in West Bengal was washed away by the rising tides, there was no help from the district administration for over two days. While the rest of the State remained oblivious to the plight of the islanders, the people had no option but to move to higher areas and wait for the State’s assistance.
Access thus has always remained a challenge for the remote islands of Sunderban archipelago which lacks even the basic emergency or health care infrastructure. This is perhaps the key reason why all — cutting across the political divide — welcomed Chief Minister’s Mamata Banerjee’s plans. On Friday, Ms. Banerjee announced that the Sundarbans region would become a separate district in 2016. Sundarbans will be the 21st district of the State.
The archipelago comprises 104 islands (of the Indian side of the delta) of which 54 are inhabited. Along with a population of five million, Sundarbans are also home to about 76 tigers and a huge variety of fauna and flora found in the mangrove forests.
“There is an island called Amtali, which is administered by two districts. Part of the island falls under Gosaba block of North 24 Parganas district and the remaining part in Sandeshkhali region of South 24 Parganas district,” Anuraag Danda, programme head, Climate Change Adaptation, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), India told The Hindu . Such division creates “administrative difficulties,” say officials.
Welcoming the announcement, Mr. Danda said this move of carving out a separate district would help in improving the service delivery mechanism and basic infrastructure of the region.
The lack of basic health care facility is forcing people to depend on quacks which is also a critical issue of the sub-divisons surrounded by water. A study by Indian Institute of Health Management Research University in 2012-13 had revealed that only in Partharpratima block of Sundarbans there were 380 quacks operating. The residents feel living standards would eventually improve “to an extent” as and when the new district is carved out.Population pressure
Though the fragile ecosystem of the Sundarbans poses a challenge to people living there, the density of population remains high in the inhabited area.
A report of World Bank released in February this year said that carrying capacity of the Indian Sundarbans has been exceeded, and the increased population was exerting pressure on the fragile and richest ecosystem of the world.
“The population is growing and exerting even greater pressure on fragile and recovering natural systems. As a result of high birth rates and migration inflows, population density is high and growing,” the report tiled ‘Building resilience for sustainable development of the Sundarbans’ points out
While the population density of rest of West Bengal is 1,030 person per sq km the islands of the archipelago also has high population density of about 1,000 persons a sq. km.
“Indian Sundarbans Delta: A Vision”, a report prepared by the School of Oceanographic Studies of Jadavpur University with WWF , a few years ago estimates that nearly one million people would become climate change refugees by the year 2050. The report suggests a planned retreat from vulnerable areas and planting of mangroves in those areas.