The Sundarbans mangroves in West Bengal is “perpetually unsettled” with regards to its largely migrant population, says sociologist and author Amites Mukhopadhyay, advocating the setting-up of a land erosion inventory to ensure compensation to the displaced.
“For ensuring environmental justice, an inventory of land erosion, embankments that have been eaten away and the lands which have already been lost should be made.
“This will help in mapping out compensation to the displaced residents,” Mukhopadhyay told IANS on the sidelines of his book launch “Living with Disasters” (Cambridge University Press) which focuses on communities’ development in the Indian Sundarbans.
Mukhopadhyay said such initiatives should become part of the state government’s policies to administer the area as a separate district, an announcement which was made by state Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee last year.
The mangroves deserve adequate attention not just because they are UNESCO World Heritage Site but also because of the settlements, he reasoned. It is currently administered as part of Bengal’s South 24 Parganas district.
“Given the rising sea levels, it would be an encouraging move if the creation of a separate district can help direct the state government’s attention to the more than 40 million people who live on the islands,” he said.
The book contends the dominant portrayal of the region as a natural wilderness is not a natural fact but a constructed image. Apart from looking at the region’s transformation during colonial rule, it also explores the islanders’ encounter with frequent embankments erosion and disaster over a period of four decades, from mid-1970s to the cyclone Aila in 2009 that displaced lakhs of people.