Bengal At Peril, Naturally
gfiles|August 2019
Bengal is staring at all round environmental disaster, from north to south. But nobody except some environmentalists is concerned
Diptendra Raychaudhuri

IT was early morning of the first day of August. Suddenly, a guard noticed a large crack on NH 117, at a distance of barely ten metres from Ganga, at Diamond Harbour, the last important town of South Bengal on the left bank of the river. The locals acted with alacrity to stop the traffic on the road. Within minutes, the crack widened, and on a stretch of about 80 metres, half of the road caved in.

It did not happen on a day of heavy rains. In fact, rains are playing truant in South Bengal this year, encouraging chats on global warming and ‘extreme weather conditions’. After the subsidence, the politicians started their regular blame game. The heavyweight TMC MP Abhishek Banerjee blamed it on the erosion of Ganga, while CPI(M) bigwig Sujan Chakrabarty identified beautification work on the river bank as the culprit. A few Calcutta papers did not report the incident of subsidence on page one the next day. It was business as usual.

The incident should have acted as an eye-opener. But no one was interested to look at the grim bigger picture that points at a large-scale environmental disaster. We have all the information, but we love to treat those as disparate pieces.

What are those pieces of information? Check them out. A few kilometres upstream of Farakka, Ganga is shifting to its left, making the possibility of outflanking the barrage real. Fifty kilometres downstream of the barrage, near Dhulian, the mainstream (Padma) that goes to Bangladesh and the branch (Ganga/Bhagirathi) that flows through India are reducing the distance between them as the branch is inching forward towards the mainstream. The erosion of the left bank of Ganga gobbled down 356 square kms of landmass and displaced 80,000 people of Murshidabad district in the last decade of the last century. Twenty years later, the river that has fallen victim to heavy sedimentation of the bed is wrecking havoc in Nadia (the district in the south of Murshidabad). And now the erosion has spread secret tentacles up to Diamond Harbour, which is 90 kms south of Shantipur, the last town up to which erosion of Ganga had reached so far.

Meanwhile, the hungry tides are advancing as the sea is rising, that too at a higher rate than global average. In another 50 years, the sea will devour the Mangrove forests of the Sunderbans, the last coastal habitat of the Bengal Tiger. With the rise of the sea and the depleted volume of water in the rivers, the level of salinity is increasing in South Bengal. Mangroves that survive only in saline soil are taking roots at the bank of the rivers up to Calcutta and even beyond!

Now, if we read together with all the information, we come across some grim possibilities. If Ganga outflanks Farakka by shifting to an old course (as Kosi River did in 2008 flooding 8 districts of Bihar and displacing nearly 30 lakhs people), or the two streams merge at Dhulian, permanent damage of unimaginable magnitude will be done. Even otherwise, the rivers of the Gangetic plains are choking. As the flow of water slacks off, the rivers eat away the bank and become slacker. Consequently, a century later, large turfs of northern Gangetic plain will turn swampy. At the same time, in future, saline water will make deeper inroads and may destroy large swathes of multi-crop lands in southern part of the plain.

Many urban areas, including Calcutta itself, are under threat as Ganga is not only eroding banks, but its water is seeping into the soil adjacent to it. In the 90s, a foreign research team felt river water was seeping through the ground, making towns like Diamond Harbour unstable. Nobody cared to listen. Now the river-side of the town has turned fragile. The same fate is awaiting the riverbanks of tens of towns on the left bank of the river. The list includes the city of Calcutta.

All together, Bengal is staring at all-round environmental disaster, from north to south. But nobody except some environmentalists is concerned.

The Rage of the Ganga

IN 1975, when Gangabhavan was constructed in Malda district, Ganga flowed five kilometres away from it. That was the time 2.24 km long Farakka barrage started operating. Soon, the blues struck the southern part of Malda district in the form of recurrent floods. On the night of 5th September, 2003, the river devoured Ganga Bhavan sitated some kilometres upstream of Farakka. In less than three decades of Farakka barrage’s existence, the river expanded five kilometres on its left at a point which was just a few kilometres upstream of Farakka.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM GFILESView All

RTI Act Amendment: Killing One More Institution?

The issue of RTI Act Amendment basically is: Should the truth about the arbitrary, autocratic, corrupt and opaque functioning of government and its instrumentalities be brought in the open and made accountable? When the government is killing the Information Commission it is expressing its own fear of the truth and is projecting a false image before the public.

7 mins read
gfiles
August 2019

Rob Peter To Pay Peter

PSUs were assiduously built from the blood and sweat of the taxpayers. Their sales were controversial and scandalous. Some were sold to other PSUs at high prices, they were purchased by private players at ridiculous prices, and the government used the proceeds largely to lower its looming fiscal deficits

10+ mins read
gfiles
August 2019

India Inc. In Distress

A fear psychosis has pervaded India Inc. unleashed by a mountain of bad corporate loans and a dictatorial insolvency law. Alam Srinivas explores how financial terror has gripped the country.

8 mins read
gfiles
August 2019

Hamster On A Wheel

The demand to ban TikTok and break the encryption technology of WhatsApp highlights the challenges that rapidly evolving digital technologies pose for India. The absence of data protection laws further exacerbates the problem, leaving millions of Indians vulnerable to behavioural manipulation by vested groups. Vivek Mukherji reports.

7 mins read
gfiles
August 2019

Bengal At Peril, Naturally

Bengal is staring at all round environmental disaster, from north to south. But nobody except some environmentalists is concerned

10 mins read
gfiles
August 2019

The Future of China-India Relations

China and India are rising almost simultaneously.

10+ mins read
gfiles
October 2019

Should IAS Be Discredited?

There is unspoken anguish and agony among those who came into the IAS as a mission and not mercenary service. Some of them are imploding and this could turn into explosion if not promptly addressed and remedied

8 mins read
gfiles
October 2019

Honey Trap Scandal - MP Power Elite Exposed

Shocking disclosures of a middle-aged woman’s perverted ingenuity has brought to the fore the debauched underbelly of bureaucracy and politics of Madhya Pradesh.

10+ mins read
gfiles
October 2019

Adhir Chowdhury - A Local Phenomenon On A National Stage

Adhir Chowdhury, the Congress leader in this Lok Sabha, has led a controversial life. he decimated the Left in his constituency Baharampur in Bengal and soon became a strongman of the region. Charged with a number of cases, it remains to be seen how Chowdhury fares at the national level

6 mins read
gfiles
October 2019

The New Logistics Messiah

Karnataka cadre officer N Sivasailam has been creating ripples with his no-nonsense approach to the critical logistics department. he’s the single window bureaucrat blue-pencilling the logistics matrix to take the economy to the uS$5 trillion trajectory over the next five years

6 mins read
gfiles
October 2019
RELATED STORIES

Never a Dull Moment

A fictional narrative based on incidents from the childhood of Swami Vivekananda.

3 mins read
The Vedanta Kesari
January 2021

Cabins of Joy

Touted as one of the last bastions of colonial Calcutta, cabin hotels have been feeding the residents of Kolkata—the City of Joy—for over 150 years.

6 mins read
Discover India
November - December 2020

Tinkerbell And Tiger

Have you ever thought how it would be to have two cats as pets? This thought gives rise to a lot of questions in one’s mind... Not anymore! Meet Tinkerbell and Tiger, a wonderful loving duo that proved that two cats can be a family to each other. Priyadarshika, their human companion, shares with us their amazing journey full of love and care...

5 mins read
Creature Companions
November 2020

ममता बनर्जी ने अदालत का निर्देश मानते हुए दी छठ पूजा मनाने की सलाह

किया पोस्ता बाजार मर्चेन्ट्स एसोसिएशन के जगद्धात्री पूजा का उद्धाटन

1 min read
Samagya
November 19, 2020

The art of transgression

Laura Gascoigne finds more feminism than sex or yoga in the British Museum’s interpretation of Tantra

3 mins read
Country Life UK
October 28, 2020

How to celebrate Durga pooja as Bengalis do

In this cover story, Abhirup Ghosh has beautifully captured the true spirit of Durga Puja in the state of Bengal both through his pen and the camera. He has perfectly elucidated the key elements of the annual festivities of the Bengali Community and elaborated on the individual rituals during these festival days. From idol-making to idol-immersion, there’s every detail in the article.

7 mins read
Touriosity Travelmag
October 2020

Syama Prasad Mookerjee Was Never A Blind Follower Of Hindutva

The dominant narrative about Syama Prasad Mookerjee is that he was a British sympathiser who spread hatred against Muslims. Declassified documents accessed by THE WEEK, however, show that while he was a Hindu nationalist, Mookerjee was never a blind follower of hindutva. He did not support the Quit India movement, but he did resign from the Bengal provincial cabinet in 1942 protesting the violence unleashed on the movement

10+ mins read
THE WEEK
October 04, 2020

Mango - Eat and Treat

Summers seem joyous with myriad mangoes all over.

4 mins read
Health Vision
September 2020

The Real Deal

Now conducted online, the ‘walks’ organised by Heritage Walk Calcutta are an antidote to hollow nostalgia

2 mins read
India Today
September 07, 2020

Phygital Learning

Digital Technologies Will Fill The Gaps In Our Education System, Be It Virtual Field Trips, Use Of Ar/vr In Experiments Or Online Lessons On-the-go

5 mins read
Business Today
August 23, 2020