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Priya focus on Ganga erosion
Bhattacharjee and Das Munshi at Writers’ Buildings on Thursday. Picture by Amit Datta

Calcutta, May 27: Union water resources development minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi today announced that his department would handle the erosion problem along the banks of the Ganga, Padma and Mahananda in Murshidabad and Malda districts on a priority basis.

However, he added in the same breath that nothing could be done before the monsoons and work would start in October.

Das Munshi, who was on his first visit to Calcutta after taking oath, held a meeting with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at Writers’ Buildings.

“Two separate task forces to check erosion will be formed for river banks and the sea coast along the state. A report will be ready by July, by which time the monsoons will set in. But we will prepare our estimate before July when the Union budget is placed. The matter will take shape by September,” Das Munshi told newspersons.

The minister, stating that erosion in Bengal was a national issue, said he had already discussed it with defence minister Pranab Mukherjee and they had agreed to take the issue “to the highest level”.

The chief minister agreed while speaking to newspersons later that erosion was of national importance and, consequently, the state must not be expected to pay for it.

Bhattacharjee said the maintenance of the Farakka Barrage was related to erosion and the Centre was not paying enough attention to it. “The Farakka Barrage was built by the Centre. It is their property. I wrote many letters highlighting the problem to the Centre, copies of which I showed Das Munshi today....This problem has acquired a serious magnitude in the state today,” Bhattacharjee said.

Das Munshi also criticised the earlier NDA government for “neglecting the serious issue of erosion” and said funds allocated by the BJP-led government on this head during the Ninth Plan period were inadequate.

“We’re considering a proposal for dredging pockets of important rivers, with China as a model,” he added. “In China, they employ local people for dredging operations.”

The Union minister said no decision had been taken on linking of rivers. He added that the Centre “would not take a hasty decision” on the river-linking project.

“A task force had been set up and I have seen its report. But it is not exhaustive. We need to have more interaction with scientists and NGOs and seek their opinion,” he said.

Das Munshi, maintaining that the ministry was yet to take stock of the situation, said some sections in the report would be omitted, revised or expanded depending on the recommendations of the technical experts.

The chief minister, however, expressed his reservations on the river-linking project. “If the rivers Manas from Nepal and Sankosh from Bhutan were to be linked to rivers in south Bengal, it would spell disaster for districts like Jalpaiguri,” he said.

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