Discarded cups and floating plastic bags, mostly left behind by tourists, is wreaking havoc on the fragile eco-system of the Sunderbans. This has prompted the state government to announce a ban on visitors carrying plastic items. The ban comes into effect from this winter.
“It is of urgent importance to save the diverse flora and fauna in the internationally-acclaimed biosphere reserve of the Sunderbans, which had been declared a world heritage site,” minister for Sunderbans development Kanti Ganguly, said on Saturday. “We must not forget that the Sunderbans is the unique habitat of the Royal Bengal tiger,” he pointed out. As the area had become more accessible to tourists — with new roads and bridges coming up — a check on the plastic invasion was a must, the minister said.
Sources said lumps of plastic had been clogging the “breathing roots” of the mangrove trees, causing immense harm to the aquatic creatures in the biosphere reserve.
Besides, loudspeakers on ferry services have become a constant source of disturbance in the area. “I have plans to introduce special mechanised boats that produce less noise,” Ganguly added.
In order to enforce the prohibition, Ganguly has decided to hold a meeting with operators of country boats, mechanised boats and motor launches before the tourist season begins. The operators would be asked to stop passengers from carrying plastic bags and even if they did, they would have to be discarded at the boarding points.
A penalty will also be slapped on an operator if his passengers litter the forest and the river with non-biodegradable plastic items. For repeated offences, an operator might even face cancellation of licence, said Ganguly.
Meanwhile, the department of Sunderbans development has taken up a scheme to project Jharkhali as the new tourist destination, replacing the current favourite Sajnekhali.
“It would act as a tourist hub along with Sagar, Fraserganj, the crocodile project at Bhagabatpur and the tiger reserve,” said Ganguly. Jharkhali is accessible only through waterways. “Since the streams are navigable only during the high tide, tourists had to waste time waiting for the water to rise. A road link will soon be available that will help visitors from Calcutta reach Jharkhali in a little over two hours,” officials said.
A 300-metre bridge on the river Hogol is now nearing completion. The 18-km stretch between Sonakhali and the bridge is also under construction and it is expected that by March 2003, the Sunderbans will be within the reach of motorists from the city.
The construction of two more bridges at Petkulchand and Nimania in Kultali, at a cost of Rs 14 crore, would be over by March.
Once the Petkulchand bridge is commissioned, the Bay of Bengal will become accessible by road. According to Ganguly, altogether 14 bridges are to be constructed in the Sunderbans, of which seven are ready.