Around three lakh mangrove saplings planted along the banks of the Vidyadhari river in Hingalganj, a stretch of the Sunderbans delta, are set to be lost forever owing to the imminent erosion of the riverbank.
A large crack has developed along the river bank at Petnipara in Sandeshkhali I block of North 24-Parganas district. The river water has been gradually eating up the plantation that was aimed to protect and strengthen the riverbank so as to reduce the impact of cyclones and storm surges.
Sandeshkhali Maa Sarada Women and Rural Welfare Society, a social organisation that planted the saplings, has accused the irrigation department of inaction in protecting the riverbank and the mangrove plantation.
After two back-to-back cyclones that hit the stretch of the Sunderbans delta in Hingalganj, the organisation took up the mangrove plantation drive to prevent erosion and stem the impact of high tidal waves during a squall. But even before the plants could grow up, the river is set to gobble up the saplings.
“The area is prone to erosion and we expected the irrigation department to take up the protective initiative. But with silt deposition increasing on the river bed, the pressure of water towards the bank has become so strong that a major crack has developed on a one-kilometre stretch of the riverbank. Now, it is barely a matter of few days that the cracked zone would be lost in the river forever unless protected immediately,” Subhasish Mondal, the secretary of the Sandeshkhali Maa Sarada Women and Rural Welfare Society, told The Telegraph.
“Officials of the irrigation department visited the threatened stretch, but gave no assurance that any immediate protective work would be taken up,” Mondal added.
In 2020, Cyclone Amphan caused heavy damage to the mangroves in the Sunderbans. The Bengal government took up a mega mangrove plantation drive after that. Around six lakh saplings of various species of mangrove trees were planted under the 100-day job scheme.
Several social organisations also joined the endeavour and planted mangrove saplings along vulnerable stretches of the delta spanning in North 24-Parganas and South 24-Parganas districts. But the plantations in the erosion-prone zones have suffered huge losses.
A senior official of the irrigation department said: “We can do very little. Funds crisis often forbids us from taking up work fast. While mangrove plantations in the erosion-prone zones are not surviving, we understand that in the areas with erosion, restoration of mangroves through organised plantation requires more active intervention like maintaining the sediment balance in the river and hydrology. But all these are not within our control.”
On May 29, a team of irrigation department officials led by subdivisional engineer Goutam Pal visited the cracked stretch at Petnipara of Hingalganj. They examined the stretch for looking at the feasibility of taking up the protective work.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Pal said: “I have submitted a report to my superior authority. The protective work for the long stretch of the damaged riverbank has bigger financial involvement, which only the higher authorities can decide”.