Pre-Gangasagar Mela damage to beach
Gangasagar Mela is barely a month away but the Bengal government is facing the challenge of restoring and reclaiming a Sagar Island stretch of beach that has been badly damaged by Cyclone Yaas and regular erosion caused by high tide.
The beach is key to ensuring security at the annual event. The government is working overtime to restore the beach and construct a concrete road to connect five beach points for easier access by personnel.
The 1.5km stretch of the beach, which has been damaged, plays a crucial role in ensuring the safety and security of pilgrims during the Gangasagar Mela as it accommodates police and coast guard control rooms as well as the barracks and lodging facilities of all senior security officials. The government is trying to restore and reclaim the beach by December 25, well before the fair that is considered the world’s second-largest human congregation after the Kumbh Mela. The Gangasagar Mela starts on January 8 at the confluence of the Ganga and the Bay of Bengal.
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee is expected to visit the island by the end of this month to examine the preparedness.
Officials of the South 24-Parganas district administration, which organises the annual festival, expect a huge footfall of pilgrims this year due to the easing of Covid restrictions. To ensure their security and safety, a large number of security personnel is also expected to be deployed during the fair and reclamation of the beach is crucial for their accommodation.
“At present, earth is being filled to restore the beach while sand-filled geotextile bags are also being used to prevent erosion and make the beach strong enough to fight high tide. Once the job is done, the construction of the road will begin,” said Sagar block development officer Sudipto Mondal.
While the irrigation department is carrying out the restoration job, the Gangasagar-Bakkhali Development Authority will build the road.
Sources in the South 24-Parganas administration said that every year routine repair work is carried out on the beach but this year the job is of “exceptional nature due to the vastness of the damage” caused by Yaas.
“After Yaas struck on May 23 last year, the size of the beach has reduced gradually. Subsequent high tides and inclement weather have caused further damage. This stretch of the beach is valuable for us from the security point of view,” a senior official of the South 24-Parganas administration said.
“If the beach is not restored, launching security arrangements and installing lodging facilities of officials and personnel of various security and administrative agencies would become impossible,” Mondal told The Telegraph.
“We apprehend a huge rush this year. Security is of prime importance as pilgrims remain concentrated on the beach. So, restoring and strengthening the beach and building the road properly for quick and easy access have become very important,” the BDO added.
In view of the high footfall expected this year, the Bengal government has directed the district administration to make additional arrangements to accommodate pilgrims.