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A day to rue the mess in the mangroves

Another Sunderbans Day, a fresh set of statistics and a fresh gameplan to tackle the problems faced by the Royal Bengal Tiger’s domain… until next year, when it will be done all over again.

The seventh year celebrations at the Birla Industrial and Technological Museum (BITM), organised in collaboration with the Calcutta Wildlife Society and West Bengal Citizens Forum and National Fellow can, at best, be described as a low-key affair.

There were many who took turns to elaborate on the importance of preserving the longest stretch of unbroken mangrove forest and how it acted as a buffer, shielding the city from the fury of cyclones and storms caused by depressions over the Bay of Bengal.

A statistical approach was adopted to highlight the mess in the mangroves — from the catastrophic effect of population explosion (4.87 lakh in undivided Sunderbans in 1901 to 42 lakh in the 19 rural blocks alone a century later) to ‘overfishing’, poaching and illegal tree felling.

More statistics rolled on. “Sixty-six per cent of the total mangrove area of the Sunderbans forests fall within the jurisdiction of Bangladesh,” the audience was told.

Then, it was time to look back and introspect on why things were as they are and not the way they should have been. Chief conservator of forests G.B. Thaplyal urged NGOs to play a more active role in spreading awareness among the rural population fringing the forests.

“Raising slogans alone will not do. Nor will the Acts framed for protecting the forest and wildlife. “You (NGOs) must come forward to educate the villagers on the importance of preserving this fragile eco-system, he said, causing some embarrassment to a few.

The Sunderbans Tiger Reserve field director Pradip Vyas reiterated the appeal. “We do not have the funds to help the huge population. The NGOs must come up with employment-generating programmes to keep the people from exploiting the forest.”

Vyas added that the Border Security Force had, for the past few months, joined hands with the forest department to patrol the area and prevent poaching and tree felling. “Together with the forest team, they are doing a wonderful job.”

There were other suggestions, too. “We must merge development with conservation. We should change our mindset and adopt a holistic approach on the issue of conservation,” was one.

At the end of it all, there was little ‘celebration’ at the Celebration of Seventh Sunderbans Day. And the spirit — or the lack of it — seemed to be symptomatic of some of the problems stalking the Sunderbans.

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