Land sharks pose threat to Bengal’s virgin seacoast

By Soudhriti Bhabani, IANS

Mandarmani (West Bengal) : Ensconced in West Bengal's East Midnapore district, Mandarmani was once an unexplored paradise – virgin and untouched. Not any more.

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Fishing communities inhabit the small coastal area of Mandarmani, nearly 190 km from Kolkata. It has now become more of a hunting ground for coastal land sharks. Drawn by the steady flow of tourists, several hotels have come up, disturbing the ecology of the inter-tidal zone.

"None of the hotel owners have got environmental clearance from the West Bengal Pollution Control Board. It's a gross violation of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms," M.L. Meena, principal secretary of the state environment department, told IANS.

Under the Environment Protection Act 1986, the notification states that it is illegal to put up any construction in the inter-tidal zone of a coastline.

Meena said the government had ordered immediate demolition of concrete structures to protect the natural environment at Mandarmani, a potential tourism zone.

"Since the matter is now in court, we can't take any action. After we receive the court order, we will take necessary action against the violators," he said.

As a result of the contravention of CRZ norms, the beach has lost its traditional character. Sand dunes and screw pines are not visible any more. And beach sand has been used for construction of hotels with big boulders, stones and chips dumped on the beach.

"Before Mandarmani came under the glare of the land sharks, it was a breeding ground for mud prawn, metaplex – a very rare type of crab – and red crabs," said National Coastal Zone Management authority member Pranabesh Sanyal.

These crabs used to increase aerations in the beach. With vehicular movement, many of these crabs got crushed under traffic wheels and the rest fled to safer destinations, making the beach completely anaerobic.

Since Mandarmani can emerge as a potential tourism destination, everything needed to be done to adhere to CRZ norms, he said.

Sanyal, who is also associated with the department of oceanographic studies in Jadavpur University and the state bio-diversity board, said frequent vehicular movement at Mandarmani had caused uneven compaction on the beach, leading to erosion in the coastal embankment.

"The emerging hotel industry has contaminated coastal water by releasing solid waste products into the sea, thereby affecting aquatic lives," he said, adding that there was no solid waste management plant at Mandarmani.

Protesting the environmental norms violation and unbridled recklessness of mushrooming hotel owners, Society for Direct Initiative for Social and Health Action (DISHA), an NGO, has filed public interest litigation in Calcutta High Court.

"Mandarmani stands out as an ugly violation of coastal ecology in recent times. Five hotels have been operational there without following the proper guidelines of the WBPCB," Santanu Chakraborty, a member of DISHA, told IANS.

He said the Mandarmani issue first came to the knowledge of the pollution control board when one of the hotel units sought permission from the board, which rejected the application.

After an inspection, the board found that several hotel units had come up in the area, violating environmental norms. They neither obtained any 'consent to operate' nor 'consent to establish' permission from the pollution watchdog.

Debashish Shasmal, executive body member of the National Fish Workers Forum (NFWF), pointed out the economic fallout caused due to environmental violation in Mandarmani.

"In Contai sub-division (where Mandarmani falls) alone, there are over 100,000 fishermen who earn their living by fishing near Mandarmani and Shankarpur. It's a major trade hub for fishing communities in the state as prawn and other fish worth Rs.30 million was exported from this particular region last year," Shasmal said.

He said that the CRZ violation at Mandarmani was disturbing the livelihood and economic stability of the fishermen. Shasmal also blamed the administration for failing to take necessary action against the violators.