Five Star Mega Tourism Project
To Destroy The Largest Mangrove Forest Of The World
One of the largest mangrove forests in the world and a unique tiger habitat, the Sunderbans in West Bengal has been facing serious threats to its ecosystem due to a number of causes which, in near future, are going to be eclipsed by a sinister five star mega tourism project.
Situated at the mouth of the Bay of Bengal in the Ganga-Brahmaputra delta, the Sunderbans covers an area of around 10,000 sq km. Of this, 4,262 sq km is in India and the rest is in Bangladesh. Of the 60 varieties of mangroves and mangrove associates that are found in India, the Sunderbans accounts for 50, many of which are rare. Known for its biodiversity, the region has been identified as a World Heritage Site by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Apart from serving as a shield against natural calamities, it checks atmospheric pollution. It has a great capacity to absorb pollutants from both air and water.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the West Bengal Government and the SAHARA Group of Companies on 30th October 2002 to undertake a five star mega tourism project in the Sundarbans. The Rs 700 crore project will be provided 750 acres of land at Sagar Island, Fraserganj, L-Plot, Kaikhali and other islands of South 24 Parganas. The project has been named 'Integrated SAHARA Tourism Circuit' (ISTC). The MoU will be valid for one year. The land will be handed over by the state government to SAHARA by March 2003 "with statutory approvals like marine, environment and forest". The importance of the MoU can be envisaged by the fact that it was signed in presence of the Chief Minister of the Left Front Government of West Bengal. This is going to be the biggest tourism project in West Bengal.
The project will take off in 2003 and the work will be completed in 2005. Before completion, from 2004, tourists will be taken to certain places. As stated by the interest group "to 'limit' the crowd, only 1500 tourists will be catered."
The project will provide land based accommodations as well as floatels, excursion to interiors through creeks and channels in motorboats. Helipad will also be built inside Sunderbans for 'emergency evacuation'. A huge area of waterways will be developed. Hovercraft will be used to carry the passengers right from Kolkata.
Two committees have been set up to launch the project - a cabinet sub-committee headed by the Chief Minister for supervision, the other, a high level committee of senior officials headed by the State Chief Secretary for monitoring.
It is a well-known fact that Sunderbans is already endangered. Ever-increasing human settlement has occupied a large space. The enormous pressure of population and their economic activities have destroyed a good amount of the forest with its exotic flora and fauna. A huge number of water transports, using enormous amount of fossil fuel, are disturbing the water life through continuous navigation and oil sippage. Decrease of fresh water inflow is increasing the salinity threatening the biosphere and disturbing the ecological balance. Earlier the city effluents of Kolkata, including the industrial effluents, flew through a large number of water bodies that acted as natural filters. But due to conversion of these water bodies by the real estate developers during recent past, the city effluents are now being more directly received by the Sunderbans. All these have caused gradual destruction of the mangrove forest and the natural food chains. Species of fishes, other water lives and mangroves have disappeared.
Although the Sunderbans has an enormous capacity to absorb industrial effluents and other forms of pollutants, experts feel that if the present situation continues for long, it might affect the ecosystem adversely. Atanu Kumar Raha, Chief Conservator of Forests (south) and Director, Sunderban Biosphere Reserve, told Frontline - a news magazine, that the latest Geographic Information Systems (GIS) report showed that in the past 70 years, 220 sq km of forestland had been submerged. "Even 150 years ago, the Sunderbans was the home of the one-horned Indian rhino, the Javan rhino, wild buffaloes and even river dolphins. All these are now extinct," Raha said.
At present a large area (beyond the core area) of the Sunderbans is visited by the tourists. No tourist is officially allowed to enter into the core area. Limited facilities are available. Still the forest lovers are attracted and take trouble (although not much) to visit the forest.
But, under the sham guise of 'eco-tourism' this mega five star tourism project is set to create havoc. The project, after completion, will take the tourists even inside the core area. The creeks, which still remain undisturbed, will be invaded and that too with motor boats. The hotels and floatels by their sheer existence will disturb the bio-diversity to a great extent let alone the effluents and emissions they will generate. Helicopters will move around to cause further disturbance to the wild life. Increased economic activities will speed up the destruction that has already set in. The whole idea is to make business out of nature. The West Bengal Government is recklessly selling nature to big business.
Sunderbans falls in the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Category I, where no construction activity for tourism is permitted. The proposed mega tourism drive is thus illegal in view of the law of the land. It is deplorable that a governmental authority is involved in such an illegal act.
Although the Sunderbans has international importance, the MoU has been signed without consultation with the concerned environmental agencies and/or authorities both at the national and international levels.
The project must be nipped in the bud.
Please send your message of protest to the following Fax Numbers
Hare Krishna Debnath
National Fishworkers Forum
CHIEF MINISTER OF WEST BENGAL, WRITERS BUILDING, CALCITTA-1, INDIA, Fax Number: (0091 ) 0332351 959
PRIME MINISTER OF INDIA, PARLIAMENT HOUSE, NEW DELHI -110 001, INDIA. Fax Number: (R) ( 0091)011 3019334, (OFF.) (0091 ) 011 3016857
Kiranmay Nanda, Minister of Fisheries, West Bengal, Fax: (0091) 033-2143929.
Sri.M.K. Jiwrajka, Secretary,CEC (IG) Ministry of E&F. Govt. India.
Fax Number (0091) 011 4363976
T. R. Balu, Minister of Environment and Forest, New Delhi, Fax: (0091) 11-4362222.
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