Grandson of 75-year-old Torab Ali watches the destruction of his three-generations-old house at Dhanghara. The village also witnessed the collapse of a school building. Photo by Tanmoy Bhaduri.

Murshidabad (town) was the capital of Bengal before the advent of the British. The river Bhagirathi, flowing from north to south through the district, divides it into two almost equal portions influencing geology, their characteristics, their agriculture and culture,

The main objective of the Farakka Barrage Project complex is to divert an adequate quantity of Ganga waters to Bhagirathi-Hooghly river system through a 38.38 km long feeder canal for preservation and maintenance of Kolkata Port by improving the regime and navigability of the Bhagirathi-Hoogly river system. The increased upland supply from Ganga at Farakka into Bhagirathi reduces salinity and ensures sweet water supply to Kolkata and surrounding areas.

Sugata Hazra, professor and former Director of School of Oceanographic Studies, Jadavpur University, Kolkata explained that the affected villages fall under the delta region of Ganga river in downstream of Farakka barrage. “Water storage capacity of the barrage has reduced in recent times. They (barrage authority) have to open their lock gates once there is heavy rainfall in North Bengal. As a result, unregulated water flow directly erodes villages on the right bank of Ganga,” he said.

Aznarul Islam, Geomorphologist and Head of the Department of Geography, Aliah University, Kolkata identified “fluctuation of river regime” as the main cause behind river bank erosion at Samserganj. “We observed several riverbank erosions after the construction of Farakka barrage at the upper stretch of Ganga in Malda district and at lower stretch in Murshidabad district. Water flow of Ganga increases downstream every ten days due to the controlled release from barrage that directly erodes lands during monsoon,” he said.

The destruction due to riverbank erosion at Dhanghara village. Around 395 pucca houses were washed away in few hours and several houses were demolished by residents to sell the material. Photo by Tanmoy Bhaduri.
The destruction due to riverbank erosion at Dhanghara village. Around 395 pucca houses were washed away in few hours and several houses were demolished by residents to sell the material. Photo by Tanmoy Bhaduri.
Rakima Bibi rolls beedis at her temporary house in Dhanghara. Samserganj is a popular hub for the beedi industry in the state. Bibi demolished her own house and sold the material to minimise her losses. Photo by Tanmoy Bhaduri.
Rakima Bibi rolls beedis at her temporary house in Dhanghara. Samserganj is a popular hub for the beedi industry in the state. Bibi demolished her own house and sold the material to minimise her losses. Photo by Tanmoy Bhaduri.
Sampa Mondal with her child amidst houses that were dismantled from fear of erosion and floods. Her house in Dhanghara was destroyed and her father's house in Natun Shibpur met the same fate. “The erosion is so fast in the region. Where should we go now?” she asked. Photo by Tanmoy Bhaduri.
Sampa Mondal with her child amidst houses that were dismantled from fear of erosion and floods. Her house in Dhanghara was destroyed and her father’s house in Natun Shibpur met the same fate. “The erosion is so fast in the region. Where should we go now?” she asked. Photo by Tanmoy Bhaduri.
Prabhat Sarkar of Dhusaripara stands near the remnants of his house. He demolished his house and sold the bricks, doors and windows at a minimum cost. He was also compelled to sell the litchi trees he owned for livelihood. Photo by Tanmoy Bhaduri.
Prabhat Sarkar of Dhusaripara stands near the remnants of his house. He demolished his house and sold the bricks, doors and windows at a minimum cost. He was also compelled to sell the litchi trees he owned for livelihood. Photo by Tanmoy Bhaduri.

The local administration tried to protect the river bank with bamboo structures and sandbags but these aren’t adequate. Hazra elaborated that a river needs at least 3-5 km for its “playing”. People should understand the river well and riverbed shifts from time to time but people have settled on the riverbank since the British regime in this area, he said. In the case of Samserganj, the composition of the soil is very sandy in nature. So, there is a probability that erosion happens in the underground and large areas can be vertically drowned very fast, according to him. “Construction of embankment or putting sandbags and bamboo won’t be a long-term solution. Marginal communities will face more erosion in the coming days with changing climate (erratic rainfall, storms, floods) condition and people becoming climate refugees,” he said.

Hazra proposed integrated planning for climate change mitigation and adaptation model in the Ganga floodplain. “State irrigation department alone cannot handle this situation. We need a delta management plan to mitigate Ganga erosion which regularly impacts four districts of West Bengal. Most importantly, experts of delta management authority will do risk zone mapping and alert locals about erosion predictions time to time and culturally rehabilitate them to safer places,” he said.

Sharing the same sentiment, Islam also said that anthropogenic pressure, land use pattern and climate change impacting the riverbank erosion in Ganga-Bhagirathi-Hooghly river system. “We have to adopt a sustainable human settlement plan along the river bank and use social engineering rather hardcore civil engineering to mitigate bank erosion,” he said.

 

Banner image: A house partially collapsed at Natun Shibpur village due to riverbank erosion along the Ganga. Photo by Tanmoy Bhaduri.

Article published by Aditi
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