June 15, 2009

Buddhadeb seeks funds for 'Sunderbans Chinese wall'

Kolkata:June 14, 2009 -Bengal wants Rs 15,000 crore to protect the area from cyclones and high tides. West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will seek Rs 15,000 crore from the Centre for building a “mini Chinese Wall” along the coastal area of the Sundarbans to protect the area’s 4.1 million people from further cyclones and high tides. The area was recently hit by cyclone Aila.

The chief minister is scheduled to meet the prime minister on June 19 in New Delhi where he will seek the grant. The plan is to build a concrete wall and embankments. Two days ago, state Finance Minister Ashim Dasgupta had met Home Minister P Chidambaram and sought Rs 10,000 crore for the project. After making several visits to the Sundarbans, the chief minister decided to raise the demand to Rs 15,000 crore.

Kanti Ganguly, the minister in charge of the Sundarbans, said this was a preliminary estimate and might rise. There are over 3,500-km embankments on various rivers in the Sundarbans, of which at least 400 km were destroyed by Aila and the high tide that followed. Ganguly told Business Standard that the entire stretch of 3,500-km riversides would not need concrete embankments.

Experts who examined the area after the devastation had said that there should be three lines of defence. The first line, exposed to the sea, should consist of mangrove rings, they said. It was noticed that the islands where mangroves were in abundance did not face the kind of devastation that visited other areas. The second line should be embankments and the third should be trees natural to the climate and soil of the Sundarbans, they said.

Prof Anandadev Mukhopadhyaya, an eminent oceanologist who has been conducting extensive studies in the Digha-Shankarpur coastline area that falls within the cyclone-hit zone, says construction of the concrete wall or embankments will go a long way in protecting the coastal area. He feels the mangrove belt is a must to protect the islands.The area is suffering from an acute shortage of drinking water, food and houses. According to Ganguly, more than 150,000 houses have been partly or fully destroyed by the cyclone. He said that after the cyclone, sea water entered the villages and seeped in a large number of mud houses. These houses, he said, might not last the coming monsoon.

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