Putu the Cat

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Saturday, October 16, 2004

A Crocodile in the Swamplands

In an essay by the same title, Amitav Ghosh, whose book on the Sunderbans, Hungry Tide, Putu gave the thumbs up to earlier, has spoken out passionately and eloquently against the building of a new tourist resort in the Sunderbans by the Sahara group. He's argued that this will destroy the eco system, be financially unviable, destroy a fragile network that protects the region from nature's fury, and most importantly, be detrimental to the lives of those who live in the region. The Hungry Tide has as one of its central events the massacre at Morichjhapi, where hundreds, possibly thousands of tribals were killed as they resisted central government encroachment. Ghosh's book has particular resonance given the news that keeps coming in from the North East- considering how tenuous our hold over our remote regions are, and how shabbily we treat them, what's in place to prevent a second Morichjhapi from taking place?

"To begin with, it is worth asking whether the project is feasible even on its own terms. What, for example, are the chances of converting a stretch of the Sunderbans into an arena for water sports and a haven for beach lovers? This is an area of mud flats and mangrove islands. There are no ‘pristine beaches’ nor are there any coral gardens. The Ganges-Brahmaputra river system carries eight times as much silt as the Amazon and the waters of this region are thick with suspended particulate matter. This is not an environment that is appropriate for snorkelling or scuba diving...A quick glance at a map is all it takes to see that the chosen location is directly exposed to the weather systems of the Bay of Bengal."

" What would happen if the complex were to find itself in the path of an incoming cyclone? In 1979, the Left Front government evicted tens of thousands of refugee settlers, mainly Dalits, from the island of Morichjhapi. The cost in lives is still unaccounted, but it is likely that thousands were killed. The eviction was justified on ecological grounds: the authorities claimed that the island of Morichjhapi had to be preserved as a forest reserve. It is scarcely conceivable that a government run by the same Left Front is now thinking of handing over a substantial part of the Sunderbans to an industrial house like the Sahara Parivar. It runs contrary to every tenet of the Front’s professed ideology. The Sahara Parivar’s project would turn large stretches of this very forest, soaked in the blood of evicted refugees, into a playground for the affluent. "


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