A jetty in Gosaba’s Jatirampur ghat on the bank of the Gomar river has virtually become a deathtrap for around 5,000 commuters in the Sundarbans delta who use it daily while crossing the river.
The concrete jetty has been damaged in such a way on account of erosion and lack of maintenance that at least two large slabs are completely washed away, creating a gap of about six feet between the water level and the lowest available step.
This compels commuters to scale a ladder to access the boat, often resulting in accidental falls into the river.
In the past few months, several commuters, particularly women and elderly men, have fallen into the river while trying to board the boat.
"During high tide, the situation is a little better as the gap decreases from the increase in water level. But during the low tide, when the water level decreases remarkably, it is risky," said Ashim Gayen, a local resident.
People falling repeatedly has caused fear among passengers from around 10 villages on either side of the river. Also, earlier many people used to bring their motorcycles to cross the river on the boats. Now, because of the gap and the need to use the ladder, bringing motorcycles has become impossible.
People living in Satjelia and some villages use the Jatirampur ghat jetty, under Rangabelia panchayat, as a convenient gateway to Calcutta.
Sujoy Bar, a tea stall owner near Jatirampur ghat, who witnesses the daily troubles of the commuters, said: "More than 5,000 persons have been using this jetty, risking life and limb. But the local administration appeared to be unperturbed about the problem."
"Last week, two persons slipped into the river and luckily were rescued fast by the local people. But things cannot go this way for long," said Debu Mondal, an autorickshaw driver, adding that elderly persons sometimes have to be lifted by boatmen to the nearest available step of the jetty.
Gosaba, the farthest block in the district, is close to Bangladesh under the Sundarbans riverine delta.
The administrative block has nine islands spanning over 14 gram panchayats with a 2.47 lakh population. Kumirmari is the remotest island under the block with minimal health care facilities.
Boat services are the main mode of internal communication in these islands.
However, random erosion of the river embankments, which has damaged the jetty too, is a major cause for concern. Sources in the district administration said heavy silt on riverbeds, particularly in the low stream of the branch rivers, has become a threat to life and property.
Speaking to The Telegraph, an official of the South 24-Parganas district administration, said they were aware of the problem.
"We are in a peculiar situation. The area is under the Coastal Regulation Zone and hence we cannot dredge the rivers for certain restrictions under the provisions of the Environment Protection Act, 1986," the official said.
"Still, we are trying to provide a solution to the commuters as early as possible," the official added.
Contacted about the commuters' woes, Gosaba's Trinamul Congress MLA Subrata Mondal said a new jetty was set to be constructed soon.
"The tender process for the project is complete. Interested agencies have submitted their bids and I am optimistic that a work order will be issued by next week," the MLA said.