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Scrutiny
  
‘Sunder’-ban?!?
The ongoing plight of fishermen
26/11/2009

Kultali village in Sunderban is no different than any other village in that area whose economy has been destroyed by the all conquering Aila that blew over southern Bengal on May 25 this year. The hapless fishermen of this region are at the mercy of moneylenders from whom they had borrowed money for their business. For the last 25 years, Kanu Bose had been maintaining his 4 acre fishing lake to earn enough to sustain his family of eight. But for the last three months, he is absconding, being hounded by moneylenders. Because of Aila, the levees are broken and embankments have collapsed, causing sea water to flood the delta. This has raised the alkaline level of water killing fish, thus destroying the source of livelihood of fishermen there. Dakshin Goranghati area of Kultali is almost deserted with 60 families having fled from there. In certain villages, the entire population has relocated to unknown places being unable to pay back the money they had once borrowed.

Even the environmentalists are not giving much hope either. The effort required is to flush out the water from the lakes and dredge out the top soil. This needs the kind of money, which is far beyond the reach of the poor fishermen. The circumstances are further complicated by the fact that the fishermen do not have ownership papers of these lakes, debarring them from formal bank loans. Therefore, they were/are left with no choice but to borrow money from local moneylenders, with mind-boggling huge interest rates.

Kultali had a population of around 160,000, out of which 60,000 were dependant on fishing. Almost all of them have lost their livelihoods. In the Sunderban area as a whole, 100,000 have lost their source of income. The state’s irrigation department has claimed to have spent Rs.115 crore on repairing the embankments. Sadly, whatever advantage this spend might have in the future, would go to private parties now trying to officially buy up the discarded lake properties. What should the government do? Literally everything; as the government, despite the Rs. 115 crore claim, is woefully absent. Immediate food, finance, support... everything!

By:- Sayan Ghosh
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