Protest against Sahara’s Sunderbans tourism project

Deccan Herald , Sunday, December 26, 2004
Correspondent : Prashant Paul
The proposed Rs 600 crore international eco-tourism project planned to come up over an 880 acre area of land and water in the world famous Sunderbans Island has run aground with some leading environmentalists and a section of the locals petitioning the Centre against granting its nod for the same, fearing a colossal damage to the pristine environment.

The project mooted by Subrata Roy, CEO of Sahara India, has held out promises of upgrading the infrastructure and standard of living besides employment to several people living in the villages of this water-locked delta that has already been declared a world heritage site by the World Heritage Society.

Even though the West Bengal Government has concluded an MoU with Sahara nearly a couple of years back for developing the project that is to come up around four islands namely Sagar, Fraserganj, Kaikhali and Sreedharnagar (L Plot), leading environmentalists backed by some NGOs have already petitioned the Union Environment Ministry, pleading that a heritage site identified by the United Nations must not be allowed to promote tourism in a commercial fashion.

Strong protest

If implemented as proposed in the MoU, the project would severely jeopardise the fragile equilibrium of the biodiversity of the mangrove forest and wild habitat, the environmentalists say and have lodged a strong protest with the state government.

While unconfirmed sources here say that the Sunderbans project of Sahara Group has neither received a unanimous acceptance in the CPI(M) aparitchik nor triggered a wave of protest, going by the international prestige of the place and its rare flora and fauna, the state government has been compelled to be on the defensive.

“We simply don’t want to be looked upon as an international criminal by giving a blanket clearance to the project,” the state Forest Minister Dinesh C Dakua was quoted as saying earlier.

The petitioners have also pointed out that the flurry of speed boats that the project is likely to deploy for touring interiors of the forested delta, home to the world famous royal Bengal tiger and a rare variety of birds, might endanger the prevailing solitude of the place, forcing them to cross over to the Bangladesh side of the delta where poaching is rampant.


It is futile and perfectly ill-conceived to pre-suppose that the project is to come up at the heritage site declared by the society, argues a senior spokesman of Sahara.According to him, it would not only embellish the existing environment in the island, adequate care would be taken to preserve and ensure future expansion of the forest to prevent occasional incursion of the wildlife into the fringe villages.

“We will not hesitate to invest to make it a really world class eco-friendly project; it will also provide round-the-year employment to this pathetically backward region,” the spokesman sought to point out.

However, environmentalists have raised the issue of coastal regulation zone under which no such tourism project can presently come up for the perceived threat to the flora and fauna.

Even though it is slated to be developed outside the purview of the regulation zone on the island which is very close to the Bay of Bengal, the West Bengal Government has declined to risk its head and has sent the project for environmental vetting to the special committee of the Planning Commission. This Committee, formed by the Centre recently to probe all aspects of any project that has huge environmental ramifications, is likely to submit its report in another couple of months, sources here say.

SOURCE : Deccan Herald, Sunday, December 26, 2004

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