Erosion-hit Bengal voters sceptical as LS polls bring their plight in spotlight | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Erosion-hit Bengal voters sceptical as LS polls bring their plight in spotlight

May 02, 2024 02:54 PM IST

Erosion along the Ganga and Padma rivers eats up hundreds of acres of fertile land in Malda, Murshidabad, and Nadia, forcing thousands of people to shift

Chaya Sarkar, 36, moved into a school building in 2022 when residents of Samserganj in West Bengal’s Murshidabad lost their homes and land district to erosion. “We have nowhere to go now,” she said as she sat on the floor of a corridor on the ground floor of the two-storey building and made bidis.

Erosion has been among the key issues in the region ahead of Lok Sabha elections. (HT PHOTO )
Erosion has been among the key issues in the region ahead of Lok Sabha elections. (HT PHOTO )

The school building shelters around 35 families and their belongings. “We have only two rooms out of the eight in the school. While classes are held in one room, the teachers use the other. We have around 100 students in classes five to eight. Some of the students stopped coming after the building was turned into a relief camp. Classes have to be managed accordingly. We cannot accommodate every student in one room. While some attend the classes, others play,” said Brajeshwar Halder, a teacher.

Erosion along the Ganga and Padma rivers eats up hundreds of acres of fertile land in the districts of Malda, Murshidabad, and Nadia, forcing thousands of people to shift further.

Debi Mondal Saha, 26, said her father-in-law shifted houses at least twice in the last two decades. “My husband had to shift once. The last time in 2023 we almost lost our daughter. She had gone to toilet at night. It was around 9pm when a portion of the house collapsed. Luckily my husband reacted promptly,” said Saha.

The state government estimates the erosion has hit around 400 square km along the Ganga-Padma river system across three districts. Around 2800 hectares of fertile land have been lost. The damage to public and private properties is estimated to be around 1000 crore in the last 15 years.

Erosion has been among the key issues ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in Malda North, Malda South, Jangipur, Murshidabad, Berhampore, Krishnanagar, and Ranaghat on May 7 and May 13.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee, who wrote two letters in 2022 seeking Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention in dealing with the situation, said flood management is a responsibility of the Union government but it has not done anything. “We have already spent 150 crore and another 100 crore has been sanctioned. Work is going on. We have to draw up a plan,” Banerjee said at an election rally in Murshidabad’s Jangipur on April 19.

Banerjee visited Samserganj in May 2023 ahead of the panchayat polls and distributed land deeds to those who lost their houses and land. In January, Banerjee urged the erosion-hit families to move away from the river banks and assured them that the government would provide them land at safer places.

Sreerupa Mitra Chaudhury, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate from Malda South, called the prevention of erosion and rehabilitation of the affected families her top priorities. “Even the people of Malda South know that if they send me to the Lok Sabha, I will raise the issue in the Parliament and bring from the Centre what is needed for them,” she said.

The four erosion-hit Lok Sabha constituencies of Malda North, Malda South, Jangipur, and Murshidabad have been Congress bastions. The Congress retained Malda South while Trinamool Congress (TMC) wrested Jangipur and Murshidabad Lok Sabha seats in 2019. The BJP won the Malda North seat.

Khalilur Rahaman, the TMC member of Parliament (TMC) from Jangipur who hopes to retain the seat, said even his ancestral house in Dhuliyan is threatened by the erosion. “I raised the issue multiple times in the Lok Sabha.”

Dhananjoy Ghosh, BJP’s candidate from Jangipur, said people know that only their government will be able to solve the problem. “The Modi government has been releasing funds but the TMC MP and MLAs [members of assembly] in Malda and Murshidabad failed to utilise them.”

The voters remain sceptical. Deep Chand Sarkar, 70, who lives in a room at the Pratapganj Primary School, said promises are made before every election. “Political parties and media come to us and take our pictures. Once the elections are over they vanish.”

Chaya Sarkar said the affected families were given land deeds before the panchayat polls but in the middle of nowhere. “There was no electricity and no water connection. How can we go there? We do not even have the money to build a house. Another election has come and we are still living in the same school with two to three families crammed in one classroom. Even if you shoot us, we have nowhere to go.”

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