Rs 200-cr bounty for Sunderbans
Krishnendu Bandyopadhyay, TNN, 13 January 2010, 03:53am IST
BONNIE CAMP (SUNDERBANS): If Jairam Ramesh, Union minister of state for environment and forests has his way, there will be no dearth of funds for conservation activities in the Sunderbans.
During his maiden visit to the world’s largest mangrove biosphere reserve on Tuesday, Ramesh announced a Rs 200 crore grant for the Sunderbans as part of the World Bank’s Integrated Coastal Zone Management Project.
This money will be utilised in the next five years starting June 30, 2010. Ramesh also plans to set up a Sunderbans Eco-system Task Force to look into climate and environmental issues of the ‘critically vulnerable coastal area’.
“I want one person in my ministry who will be responsible for all activities in the Sunderbans. At present, there are six to seven agencies working in the Sunderbans. Unfortunately, they do not talk to each other and there is no integration of initiatives. The effect of stand-alone initiatives are not felt,” Ramesh said.
The minister also announced Rs 2 crore for rainwater harvesting in villages around the core area. There are nearly two lakh people living in the buffer zone.
“We will have to reduce their dependency on the forest. For this, alternative livelihoods will have to be developed. One crop lands will have to be turned into multi-crop ones. For this, rainwater has to be harvested. After Aila, most sweetwater ponds in the area turned saline. Ideally, the people living in the Sunderbans should be relocated. This is not possible as there is insufficient land in West Bengal,” he said.
Ramesh will also set up an Indo-Bangla Sunderbans Eco-system Forum, the first meeting of which will be convened in March. “Nearly 60% of the Sunderbans falls in Bangladesh. Our neighbouring country is very keen to work with India for protection and conservation. Till now, there has been little interest from our side. I want to reverse this. I have already taken up the matter with the external affairs ministry. There is actually a lot that we can learn from Bangladesh,” the minister added.
The forum will deal with issues such as tiger census, wildlife protection and migration, Ramesh said.
The World Bank grant of Rs 200 crore (US$ 50 million) will be used for plantation, wildlife protection and anti-trafficking activities. Ramesh plans to integrate the efforts of the forest department, irrigation department, the Botanical Survey of India, the Zoological survey of India, the department of Sunderbans affairs and agencies like the Border Security Guard and Coast Guard. An action plan will be drawn up soon.
Ramesh is clearly not happy with the way tiger census is carried out in the Sunderbans. According to him, a range of 50-250 Bengal tigers is too wide to understand the actual situation. While 50 means that the situation is extremely grim, 250 big cats would suggest that things have improved miraculously. He has urged the Wildlife Institute of India to give more accurate figures for the Sunderbans. This should be available by November.
Ramesh was present when the four-year-old tigress captured near a village on January 9 was released into the dense forests of Haldi Beat — near the estuary. The minister even stood near the tigress’ cage and announced that it was his “moment of bravery”. After being released, the tigress entered the water with a huge leap, gave a ferocious roar before swimming across into deep forest cover.
The tigress was first spotted near Petkulchand in Kultali on January 3. It took nearly a week to capture her. By this time, she had mauled a curious villager who got too close. Forest officials also released 65 deer raised at Dobanki to increase the forest’s prey base, in Ramesh’s presence.