The Story Of The Disaster

Since the 35 years after the construction of Farakka Barrage, in Malda district alone, 269sq. km. of fertile land covering 59 Mouzas (a revenue village), 29 Gram Pancnyats (lowest unit of three tier local self governance institution, known as Panchayati Raj institution) of Manikchak, Kaliachak-II and Kaliachak-III block disappeared forever affecting more than 300,000people. In Murshidabad and in all the islands (together) the number of the affected is almost same. It displaced them form their traditional habitation and livelihood. The common livelihood options of these people were fishing and selling, mango plantation, agriculture, and some off-farming activities, such as, food processing based on mango fruit, gem cutting and jewelry making, masonry, carpentry and so on. The erosion has become very acute since a major flood in Malda in 1998. Government's response to check further erosion has been only structural through construction of spurs, ring and retired embankments. But, all these centralized efforts against local people's wisdom, given the mentioned geo-morphology, have accentuated recurrent and persistent erosion in the lives of millions of people 90% of whom belong to Muslim and 10% to Schedule Caste communities.

The impact of erosion on the lives, livelihood of people affected in Murshidabad, Malda and the islands have been devastating. In Malda alone, more then 300,000 human beings have lost their agricultural land, mango, orchards, homestead lands, other assets and houses sane tragedy has occurred in case of Murshidabad. Since, the construction of the Barrage between these two districts 700,000 to 1 million of people have been out of their original habitat and the islanders loss nobody even counts. Most of the families have shifted their houses (they call it 'bari tana' in local language) up to a maximum of 17 times and reestablished their villages with the original names. People who once owned about 300 acres (2.5 acres =1 hectare) of cultivation land mango orchards are now desperately looking for a small piece of land for shelter. This procrastinated disaster has now become beyond the coping mechanism of the suffering communities. For survival desperation, able bodied men have learnt to migrate to Mumbai, Surat, Ahmedabad, Kolkata and other large cities in India and in the Middle-East. These intra-state and inter country immigrants do not possess any state identity, such as, land holding records, ration, voters' ID cards and so on. As a consequence, they are the first prey of violence in terms of attack and pushing back, either, in case of the epidemic like plague in Surat in 1994, Earthquake of 2001, or during the communal riot in the state in 2003. In southern Mumbai, most of mobile fruit vendors, construction laborers and goldsmiths are from Malda, Murshidabad and Chars. In 1992 and '94 riots in Mumbai, they were the worst attacked because of their Muslim identity; in 2003, during the pushing back operation of the slums and pavement dwellers as 'illegal immigrants from Bangladesh' most of the pushed backs were the unfortunate stateless people of Malda and Murshidabad. Most of the minor female sex workers in Kolkata (one third of sex workers here is form Murshidabad district alone) quite a considerable number of maid servants and sweepers in Delhi and Ahamedabad are form these two districts.

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