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ABOUT DEPARTMENT OF SUNDARBAN AFFAIRS
State Govt. created Department of Sundarban Affairs in pursuance of the State Govt, policy of entrusting the planning and co-ordination of department's activities in the backward region like Sundarbans. The tasks entrusting with this department are difficult as the area is one of the backward regions of the State inhabited predominantly by SC & ST population; the terrain is very inhospitable and inaccessible; the communication is difficult and life is very hard. However, this department has since been trying to bring about appreciable improvements in the fields of basic infrastructure, livelihoods and socio - economic condition as a whole.
Department of Sundarban Affairs has since been implementing its work programme through the Sundarban Development Board. This Board is also a model for harmonious working between the so called bureaucrats & technocrats. More specifically, the generalists are working side by side the engineers, and the experts of agriculture, forest, fisheries etc.
The Sundarban constitutes the largest delta in the entire globe formed by way of sedimentation of river Ganges & its tributaries. The unique biosphere reserve & world heritage site, with its plethora of potentials and problems, is a place of universal attraction. About 60% of the Sundarbans is comprised within Peoples Republic of Bangladesh and the rest 40% constitute the Indian Sundarbans comprised within two southernmost districts, North & South 24-Parganas in the State of West Bengal.
Sundarban symbolizes the eternal global dilemma / conflict between developmental and ecological values. Located at the southern margin of the Ganga delta, Sundarban represents a large ecosystem of mangrove wetland, fragile and economically potential zone. Extending between 21°32’ and 22°40’ Northern Latitude and between 88°05’ to 89°00’ Eastern Longitude, the region is demarcated by the river Hooghly on the west, the Bay of Bengal on the south, the Ichamati-Kalindi-Raimongal rivers on the east and the Dampier-Hodges line on the north.
It comprises of nineteen blocks (sixteen police stations) of North 24-Parganas and South 24-Parganas Districts of the State of West Bengal. They are Haroa, Hasnabad, Hingalganj, Minakhan, Sandeshkhali-I and Sandeshkhali-II in North 24-Parganas district and Basanti, Canning-I, Canning-II, Gosaba, Joynagar-I, Joynagar-II, Kakdwip, Kultali, Mathurapur-I, Mathurapur-II, Namkhana, Patharpratima and Sagar in South 24-Parganas District. There are 54 islands in this region. The land area measures about 9629 sq. km., of which, 4493 sq. km. is inhabited by people and the rest is Reserve Forest. The total number of mouzas under the region is 1093.
Sundarban offers bountiful natural resources, invaluable tropical - fresh and marine fishes and other aquatic organisms, endangered Royal Bengal tigers, crocodiles and other faunas. In contrast, quite frequently it has to face tremendous loss of life and property because of its proneness and susceptibility to natural hazards viz. Tropical cyclone, regular tidal ingression and flood, coastal erosion, increasing salinity both in soil and water. These natural hazards along with human interference adversely affected the growth of human settlement throughout the early history of Sundarban.
Sundarban is interlaced by innumerable creeks, channels and tidal creeks. Excepting the Hooghly on the west and the Ichhamati on the east, all other water channels are delinked from water sources from the upland rivers. Though the rivers are tidal in nature, free tidal flushing spill areas was interrupted by premature reclamation of the land. Tidal rivers here carry large amount of sediments only to be deposited on the river bed creating acute problem of drainage. The main estuaries from east to west are the Raimongal, the Kalindi, the Gosaba, the Bidyadhari, the Herobhanga, the Bidya, the Matla, the Thakuran, the Saptamukhi and the Hooghly. The average tidal amplitude in these estuaries ranges from 3.5 to 5.0 metres.
Composed of Aluvio-estuarine sediments much of this region lies below 3 metres, though there are few hummocky grounds scatteredly distributed in areas adjoining Bishnupur-Mograhat police stations as well as Baruipur-Joynagar-Mathurapur-Mandirbazar, along the remnants of the Adiganga, along the Ichhamati river bank and in Joynagar-Canning-Basanti-Gosaba areas.
The soil of the region can be generally classified into five groups depending on the texture of the soil: (a) clay soil: (b) heavy soil (c) sandy loam (d) sandy and (e) silty soil. The salinity of the soil is determined by the amount of rainfall occurred and fresh water received from the upper catchment area and the salinity of the tidal water channels from the south. On an average, the entire area may be divided into low salinity up to 8PPT — northern part, and high salinity from 8PPT to 2OPPT-southern part of Sundarban. The natural soil association found in Sundarban can be divided into two categories, (1) Ganga alluvium and (2) Salinised alluvium. The two soil forming agencies, (1) Rain water and (2) Sea water has influenced the soil characteristics to result in (a) Normal soils (b) Saline alkali soils (c) Non-saline alkali soils and (d) Degraded alkali soils (Saline Turf Soils). The soils are fertile owing to continuous silt deposits. Salinity of surface soils is high during dry season but is reduced to tolerable limits because of dilution by the leaching effects of rain water. The climate of the Sundarban is subtropical. Temperature changes from 20°c in December-January to 28°c in June and July. The annual average rainfall is around 1963 mm. (70"). 75% of the rainfall occurs during June and September.
The forest area of Sundarban region may be divided into two broad categories: (1) salt water heritiera (2) low mangrove. The main forest species in Sundarban are Goran, Passur, Keora, etc. The 'Sundari' trees, - from which, according to some, the name "Sundarban" might have been originated, are scarce now. A large part of the 'reserve' forest areas known as 'tiger reserves' has been declared 'totally protected' and no forestry operation is allowed there. The most noted species of the wild life of the region are Royal Bengal Tiger, Spotted Deer, Wild Boar and Crocodiles.
Sundarban, one of the most backward regions of the State of West Bengal much owes its origin to the premature reclamation from woody, watery wilderness during the late 19th century when the East India Company started leasing out few lots to the Zamindars and the Lootdars.
The embankment put up by early settlers for the protection of their crops, poultry and livestock from floods during high tides, obstructed the deposition of natural silt by the rivers and as a result the entire area remained flat and below the sea level. This accounts for the perennial drainage problem in this region. The high salinity in the soil as well as the water, create acute shortage of water for domestic as well as agricultural uses. The ground water is available at a depth of 300 to 400 metres.
Agriculture is the mainstay of economy catering to about 89% of the total population of this region as against about 57% of the State. Among the agricultural workers the high percentage of landless agricultural labourers accounting to about 50% substantiates the level of poverty in the region.
Next to agriculture, fisheries provide a distinct source of employment and income for the people particularly for small and marginal farmers. Animal husbandry in the region could not be developed much owing to an acute shortage of fodder and inadequate veterinary coverage.
Tourism could be another economic activity. But the infrastructures are still inadequate. Scope for development in this sector is very high.Village Industries / Artisanry in the region is limited and There is vast scope for Development. Bee keeping is gradually increasing.
The 54 islands of Sundarban region are mostly separated by innumerable creeks and channels and protected by 3500 km. of earthen embankments. The communication facilities and other amenities are inadequate and under developed. Consequently access to many areas is very difficult and in the rainy season, some areas are cut off. Inaccessibility is the main constraint to development of the region.
Sundarban offers the intricate challenge of striking the right balance in respect of developmental activities in one of the most backward regions, providing infrastructures & livelihood to the poor but enterprising inhabitants and simultaneously protecting one of the most fragile but bountiful and unique eco system perhaps in the entire world. Sundarban Development Board is committed to the cause and continuing its constructive works through concerted & collective endeavors of all concerned and is trying to augment the resource base through matching increase in budgetary allocation by the State Government.
- Construction and development of communication infrastructure like all weather roads, concrete and bituminous roads, jetties on ferry ghats, R.C.C. bridges to connect the islands with the main lands. This department is giving more emphasis to improve the connectivity of remote areas of Sundarban with district and State Highways.
- Construction and development of drainage infrastructure like drainage sluices, culverts and reclamation of drainage – cum –irrigation canals, re-excavation of derelict canals etc.
- Distribution of high quality seeds and manures etc. for raising crops during rabi - summer season.
- Creation of social infrastructure like sinking of tube-wells for supply of drinking water, considering the underground water level.
- Infrastructure for the academic institutions especially for the girls’ schools to reduce drop-out amongst students.
- Creation of awareness amongst the people of Sundarban involving the Govt. administration, Panchayats, Schools, Madrashas, Colleges, Voluntary Organizations etc. for conservation of nature and environment of this important biosphere.
- Distribution of bi-cycles to girl students for facilitating them in pursuit of study and increasing their mobility.
- Organizing training for the farmers and fishermen for transfer of improved technologies.
- Skill development in different trades for the marginalized unemployed youths of Sundarban to enable gainful employment / Self employment opportunities for them especially for the school dropouts, thereby ensuring improvement of livelihoods and social well-being of the inhabitants and so on.
- As regards Fishery, at present Board has one fish farm at Jharkhali in Basanti Block under its direct control. Jharkhali Fish Farm has total land area of 50 h.a. of which operational area under fishery is 12 h.a. Board developed another Fish Farm at Jharkhali with an area of 150 h.a. which has been handed over to a Co-operative Society for its management. Distribution of fish fingerlings to fishermen has been emphasized.
- Social forestry programme through planting of mangroves, fruit bearing trees like mango, Jam, etc., other plants like Mahogany in different block the natural areas to retain biodiversity.
- Awareness generation is promoted among the School students about the importance of Mangroves while celebrating SUNDARBAN DAY (DIBAS) every year for two Districts viz. South 24 Pgs. and North 24 Pgs. within the Administrative jurisdiction of this Department.