The marichjhanpi massacre: Dichotomies of man – environment conflict

Karabi Das and Kanailal Das

The Indian Sundarban forms a part of the single largest halophytic ecosystem of the world. The Indian Sundarban is 9630 km2 in area. Among 102 islands, 54 are reclaimed. Physiographically, the Indian Sundarban forms a deltaic plain, criss- crossed by an intricate network of tidal channels which have now severed from their fresh water upland sources. The islands of the Sundarban located at the forest fringe are less sheltered from the ravages of nature. The economic status of about 4 million inhabitants of Sundarban is quite low. The livelihood of people revolves around extraction of resources from forests and creeks apart from agriculture. The question of prioritization plays a pivotal role in the smooth functioning of the society as a whole. Conservation of environment is of prime importance however it is often ironical that the question of environmental conservation has brought about displacement of poor and hapless people. Man environment conflict in the Indian Sundarban has been age old conflict. This paper deals with the dichotomies of development in sites like Marichjhanpi, Jambudwip and Jharkhali. Eviction of East Pakistani refugees from Marichjhanpi in lieu of environmental conservation was prevalent in the regime of the Left front government. The same regime led to forceful establishment of settlement at Jharkhali, the southernmost island of Basanti community development block. Fishermen were also evicted from Jambudwip in lieu of conservation of forests while the river Hukaharaniya was dammed to enhance fresh water agriculture. This paper deals with these incidents and the dichotomies of development on one hand and conservation on the other. Cartograms have been prepared to depict the massacre of Marichjhanpi while the inception of settlement at the cost of forests at Jharkhali has been traced with the help of SOI toposheets and LANDSAT imageries of various years. Normalised Differential Vegetation Indices indicating the deteriorating health of vegetation at Jharkhali have been used. At the same time, these tools have also been used to depict the scenario of Marichjhanpi.

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