Barges ferrying fly ash from India to Bangladesh that regularly travel through the Sunderbans are impacting the river banks and eroding the island, West Bengal Disaster Management Minister Javed Khan said.
"I visited the Sunderbans recently, along with senior officials of my department and green experts, to take stock of the situation and were informed by the locals that the continuous movement of barges ferrying fly ash from West Bengal to Bangladesh is affecting the banks and triggering erosion. We plan to take up the matter with the central government agencies," West Bengal Disaster Management Minister Javed Khan said at a workshop held at the Kolkata Press Club, reports the Telegraph India.
The workshop was organised by Press Club, Kolkata, and India Japan Laboratory under Keio University, Japan.
A document titled "Role of media in disaster risk reduction" was released by Minister Javed Khan said along with Professor Rajib Shaw of Keio University and Snehasis Sur, president, of Kolkata Press Club.
Around 40 vessels ply daily through the Sunderbans waters carrying fly ash that is sued in cement factories in Bangladesh, according to the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), the Union government's agency that regulates the transboundary barge movement.
Local residents of the Sunderbans have blamed increased erosion on barges that are now travelling closer to the inhabited islands than about a decade back.
"These barges are triggering erosion," Amal Mandal, a resident of Pakhiralay island, told The Plurals on Sunday, pointing to a barge passing by close to a sprawling zilla parishad house that stands dangerously poised and all set to be engulfed by the river in near future as the adjoining river bank has eroded significantly in the last few years.
Earlier, the barges used to travel through channels closer to the core forest.
But complaints that they were damaging the pristine mangroves and wildlife habitat, particularly through the release of toxic effluents, led to a change of route.
"On average about 40 barges travel through the Sunderbans daily, carrying mainly fly ash from India to Bangladesh. We have no evidence to suggest that the waves generated by these barges affect the banks or cause erosion," said Arvind Kumar, director IWAI.
A senior IWAI official clarified that the waves created by barges affect the water level till a depth of 0.5m at the most; this is further minimised as the waves approach the bank.
"As erosion normally occurs at a depth of three to four metres; the waves created by the barges have no role in bank erosion; those usually ply about 200m away from the bank," added the official.
Senior officials of both IWAI and Kolkata Port Trust claimed that the regular tidal waves and fluctuations, as well as strong winds, damage the banks.
"If barge movement was responsible, there would not be erosion of river banks close where there is no barge movement; but we find erosion in many such places," an official said.
Senior officials of both IWAI and Kolkata Port Trust claimed that the regular tidal waves and fluctuations, as well as strong winds, damage the bank