By Aniruddh Naik:
Our motherland beholds a sort of beauty that is nonpareil. The main constituent of this vivid beauty is its biodiversity: the flora, fauna, the sacred species, the roaring rivers, the ferocious yet pleasing rainfall and the smell of the soil. When all these conspire to come together and silently accentuate its eternal presence, we can not only see, but also feel the Sundarbans. Nothing can take away the mesmerizing and titillating look of the Sundarbans as it rests and plays between India and Bagladesh, eventually falling in love with the Bay of Bengal.
The name Sundarban is for the non-Bengal part of India, while it gets the sweet pronunciation of ‘Shoundar’(beautiful) and ‘Bon’(forest) from the Bengali language. Covering approximately 10,000 square kilometers of the Indo-Gangetic plain, the Sundarban is well-known for its once endangered Royal Bengal Tiger. It stands as the epitome of biodiversity involving about 400 species of fishes, one of world’s rarest and biggest crocodiles whose length is circa 27 feet, the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtle and many more.
The Sundarbans has an elaborate history to boast of: Its beauty was noted by Hindu sages in 2000BC who came in touch with it. Then during the Mughal regime, criminals sought asylum in the Sundarbans. Then came colonization which saw the natural habitat being protected through various laws. It is also said that the forests saw a huge number of killings after the first World War through hunting, poaching of arms, smuggling and attack by pirates. Even the post-independence period saw the thrashing of the laws made by the British for protection of forests in India in the anti-colonial mood and Sundarbans wasn’t an exception to this. This eventually opened new doors for outsiders to exploit the natural resources.
To tap this useful piece of land by conducting desalination of land for rice cultivation and forest clearing, many outside labourers were employed, thus leaving the natives jobless. In 1969, The Sundarbans got worldwide recognition for having a diverse ecosystem during the 10th General Assembly of ICUN. As a result of this, the Royal Bengal tiger (which is on the verge of becoming extinct) saw a ray of hope for its survival owing to World Wildlife Fund’s ‘Project Tiger‘ in 1975. It has been successful in increasing the tiger population, through both legislation and the protection of its habitat. In 1984 a national park was set up in the Sundarbans which later received the World Heritage Site status by the United Nations in 1990. Meanwhile, India has upgraded the park by designating 9,360 sq km of the Sundarbans as a Biosphere Reserve.
Soon the protected areas were declared and it became difficult for the local inhabitants to survive because it is now illegal for them to do fishing, mariculture and honey collection, which was once their occupation. The climate change, comprising wave motions, micro and macro-tidal cycles and long shore currents has given rise to soil erosion and accretion.
The government is very much concerned to generate employment for the inhabitants of Sundarbans by promoting tourism. Popularity is expected to increase with the establishment of the Sagar Marine National Park. The 200 sq. km park, proposed for Sagar Island at the mouth of the Hooghly River, would host scuba diving and an open sea aquarium. Let us hope Sundarban preserves its beauty by sustaining the requirements of the inhabitants.