27, Sep 2022 | Mohammed Ripon Sheikh
The livelihoods of most people in Digha, Sundarbans, Murshidabad, Malda areas of West Bengal are dependent on fishery. Agriculture is mainly dependent on the rivers of Bengal. But just as the river is a blessing to people, it can also prove to be fatal. Just as rivers provide us with food, they can also bring destruction. There is a saying in Bengali that roughly translates to ‘if you live by the river, you are in a perpetual state of worry’. People in Malda and Murshidabad come face to face with this proverbial sentiment almost regularly, being directly affected by the erosion during floods that render them homeless.
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Every year during the monsoons, as the water level of the Ganga rises, erosions take place. This year was no exception. As the water level of the river increased during June-July, erosions started to happen in Manikchak, Bhutni, Ratua and Kaliachak in Malda district, slowly continuing to Farakka, Samerganj, Suti 1, Suti 2, Raghunathganj 2, Lalgola and Bhagwangola in Murshidabad district. Within the blink of an eye, houses disappear under water. One village after another is drowning in the Ganges. An average of 8 square km of land is encroached by the rivers in West Bengal each year. This repetition of catastrophe has brought people together in anger and resistance.
Najibur Rahman, a local resident in Malda says, “when floods occur due to heavy rains in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the water enters Jharkhand, Malda, Murshidabad and Birbhum districts of West Bengal. Moreover, due to heavy rains, the water level of the river increases and the pressure is created on the banks. Moreover, the river is obstructed due to the Farakka barrage. This reverse motion is affecting the riverine areas. Besides, the river is getting obstructed in its normal course due to silt falling towards Bangladesh. As a result, it changes speed and tries to flow in the opposite direction. At that time, the bank of the river began to break under the pressure of the huge amount of water.” adding that erosion is also caused due to the presence of sand in the soil found at the banks of the Ganges.
Another resident of Malda, Mainul Haque says, “after the monsoons, if the river bed is dredged and the banks are built properly, it is possible to prevent erosion. Us poor people were somehow living in a house but it all got destroyed by the river water. I am a graduate student studying in college. I opened a cyber cafe after a lot of hardships but due to river erosion that too is now under the Ganges. Old parents at home, I am the eldest child in the family but now unemployed.”
Naturally, the question arises in people and affected residents, “what is the administration doing?” Complaints of local residents have been reported to higher authorities. But the erosion cannot be prevented by any means. Members of ruling and opposition political parties have spoken to concerned citizens without any fruitful results. People in Murshidabad and Malda districts continue to live in disorientation and panic due to this regular occurrence. Some families are living under trees. Storms, rains, natural calamities are being ignored. Mainul says, ‘Lockdown took away income from our lives! But this time Ganga took away our houses.”
Meet CJP Grassroot Fellow Mohammed Ripon Sheikh
This young man, who has graduated with a B.Sc degree from Burdwan University, loves trivia. Sheikh’s passion to research and seek “unknown information about World History” has earned him many medals and trophies at various University and state-level Quiz championships, and youth festivals. Sheikh is a born orator and a natural community leader. He has the potential to represent his community, state and country at a global level one day. His immediate goal, however, is to find a job so he can support his parents.