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The Ignored Disaster of West Bengal – Bhagwangola II


The combined effect of riverbank erosion & flooding takes away lives and destroys properties every year in the villages of Bhagwangola II block in Murshidabad, West Bengal. Despite so much devastation, neither the media nor disaster management agencies pay the required attention which the issue deserves.

While this article is being written, the coronavirus pandemic in the world has already affected more than 26.7 million people worldwide and has claimed more than 870k lives. But this is not the only issue that has affected the population throughout 2020. There have been multiple other disasters including the Australian bushfires, the Beirut explosion, the Vishakhapatnam gas leak, etc. which have caused an incredible amount of death or destruction. While some of these disasters have been anthropogenic in origin, some have been caused due to natural hazards. The Kerala floods of 2020, for example, have caused more than 50 deaths by cascading into other disasters like landslides. But while all of these have managed to garner at least some attention from the people and media worldwide, this article is about one issue which has managed to receive none.

Bhagwangola II block in Murshidabad is infamous for being a politically active border area between India and Bangladesh, which hosts several Bangladeshi illegal immigrants. However, what this area actually possesses, which deserves attention from a disaster manager’s perspective, is a mighty angry river and a nearby dam which fuels its anger – the Padma river system controlled by the Farakka Barrage. The river erupts during the monsoon season when the barrage opens its floodgates to prevent flooding on the other side. As a result of extreme flooding and riverbank erosion, this river leads to death and destruction of property every year in Bhagwangola II.

Also Read: Time to educate about nature!

Fragile Houses near the river bank in Bhagwangola II
Fragile Houses near the river bank in Bhagwangola II | Author’s Camera

Without any prior warning, the river either completely erodes the land, washes away the crops or covers them with silt and instantly makes the land infertile. People who work the whole year to grow crops are instantly left without any harvest! These people also have to use sand and mud to raise the height of their homes every year, only for them to get washed away again. It is not possible for people to take any strong measures to deal with the issue.

The primary cause for this is their prolonged poverty, the discrimination they face, and lack of strong community leaders who can raise their voice on the issue. The local people claim that the government doesn’t help them much because of the fact that many residents of the area are not registered Indian citizens and do not comprise any major portion of the vote bank for political parties. The locals have also claimed that there are massive religious discriminations and certain hate crimes in the area which have created a long-lasting rift between them and the government.

Breaking banks in Bhagwangola II
Breaking banks in Bhagwangola II | Author’s Camera

According to the locals, corruption at every level of the society as well as the government has prevented proper implementation of pre- and post-disaster measures. Reportedly, the sum and materials for relief which comes from the state or the centre do not reach to those who are most affected. The materials are often taken by the powerful people of the villages, thus leading to unequal distribution. The money which comes from the government as a part of a programme for the better rebuilding of houses also does not reach the intended beneficiaries.

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The locals have complained that the representatives of the government often keep the money for themselves and their families. The area also lacks the huge boulders and concretized banks which are found at other volatile riverbanks across the state. While the exact reason for this is unknown, it can be safe to assume what the local people say as the truth.

This recurring disaster has not only taken a toll on the morale of the people but is also the biggest contributing factor to their prolonged poverty.

This is a disaster that takes place every year in the villages of Bhagwangola II. Yet, the response from the media and disaster management agencies has been minimal, to say the least. The poor people living on the banks, who don’t have anywhere else to go, face the wrath of the river every year. This recurring disaster has not only taken a toll on the morale of the people but is also the biggest contributing factor to their prolonged poverty.

This raises two important questions, the first one is – ‘Why one lives in a disaster-prone area?’ and the second one being – ‘Why are certain sections of the society given more attention than others?’. The first one can be answered with a very simple explanation, that they have nowhere else to go and they do not have the capital to shift. But, the second question opens up a plethora of thought-provoking contexts, all of which needs to be discussed.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are of the author solely. TheRise.co.in neither endorses nor is responsible for them.

References
  • World Health Organisation. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
  • India landslide: Dozens feared dead after flooding in Kerala BBC News 2020 Aug 8: India. Available at – https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-53697917
  • Das B. Stakeholders’ perception in identification of river bank erosion hazard: a case study. Nat. Hazard. 2010;58: 905-928.
  • Central Water Commission. Handbook for Flood Protection, Anti-Erosion and River Training Works. New Delhi: Government of India. 2012
  • Ghosh D,  Sahu A. PROBLEM OF RIVER BANK FAILURE AND THE CONDITION OF THE EROSION VICTIMS: A CASE STUDY IN DHULIAN, WEST BENGAL, INDIA. Reg. Sci. Inq. 2018; 10(2): 205-214.
  • Mirza MQ. Diversion of the Ganges Water at Farakka and Its Effects on Salinity in Bangladesh. Environ. Manage. 1998; 22(5): 711-722

About the author

Soham Chakraborty is a post-graduate in disaster management from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, currently working as a Senior Research Assistant in the Public Health Foundation of India.


Soham Chakraborty

Soham Chakraborty is a post-graduate in disaster management from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, currently working as a Senior Research Assistant in the Public Health Foundation of India.

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