Sundarban Tiger Reserve, West Bengal, India

Fishing struggles and conflict over the natural resource in one of the biggest mangrove forest and tiger reserves in India and the world.


The Sundarban Biosphere Reserve is a mangrove protected forest located in the West Bengal Delta, and declared as a Tiger Reserve in the 1973. The districts of North and South 24 Parganas within which lies the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve (SBR), is comprised of 102 islands, of which 54 are inhabited and the rest forested. The inhabited islands house a majority of forest-dependent people, especially concentrated in the lower island villages bordering the forests fringes. These people are integrally dependent on the forest resources for their livelihood, the most common forest-based activities being forest fishing (fishing in the narrowest river creeks and estuaries surrounded by forest areas), prawn seed collection, crab fishing, honey and wax collection.

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Basic Data
NameSundarban Tiger Reserve, West Bengal, India
ProvinceWest Bengal
Site24 Parganas
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Establishment of reserves/national parks
Aquaculture and fisheries
Wetlands and coastal zone management
Specific CommoditiesLand
Tourism services
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe Sundarban Biosphere Reserve covers a vast area of 4,262 sq. km. in India alone, with a larger portion in Bangladesh. The area had been under Sundarban reserve forest established under Notification No. 15340-FOR, dt.09.08.1928. The Sundarban Reserve was declared as a Sundarban Tiger Reserve in 1973, a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1977, and as a Biosphere reserve in 1989.

In December 2007, the limits of the core area extended up to an area of 1,699.62 sq. km. notified as the Critical Tiger Habitat (CTH), which comprise Chamta, Netidhopani, Matla, Chhoto Hardi, Goashaba, Mayadwip, Gona, Baghmara and Chandkhali. The rest of the area of 885.27 sq. km has been designated as the buffer zone; within the buffer zone, Sajnekhali Wildlife Sanctuary covers an area of 362.335 sq. km. Apart from this, Halliday Island Wildlife Sanctuary covers 5.8 sq km and the Lothian Wildlife Sanctuary 38.9 sq km. They all fall within the reserved forest area outside the Tiger Reserve.

The notification of 18 December 2007, incorporated four new forested islands within the cluster of ‘core’ or ‘inviolate’ areas. These four blocks with their subsequent compartments include Chamta (1-3), Baghmara (1), Netidhopani (1-3) and Chandkhali (1-4), covering total 369.53 km², in addition to the previous 1330.12 sq. km². Since the chapter in which the passage occurs has been written by a noted forester and Sundarbans forest expert, Pranabes Sanyal, one assumes that this proposed zone demarcation was done on the basis of necessary scientific study pertaining to the needs of tiger conservation. Yet, the chapter does not refer to any such study, though Section 38V of the WLPA, on which this demarcation depends, requires such habitat to be established not by mere fiat, but “on the basis of scientific and objective criteria”.

The Sundarbans National Park, declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO, falls within the core area of the tiger reserve and is a protected zone where no human activity is permitted under the West Bengal state government policy.

According to a 2015 study on the Economic Valuation of Tiger Reserve in India, it is estimated that the Sundarban Tiger Reserve provides flow benefit worth benefit of INR 12.8 billion ( EUR 158 million euro) annually. These important ecosystem services include nursery function (INR 5.17 billion – EUR 64.05 million), gene-pool protection (INR 2.87 billion year – EUR 35.55 million), provisioning of fish (INR 1.6 billion year – EUR 19.82 million) and waste assimilation services (INR 1.5 billion year – EUR 18.5 million). Other important services emanating from Sundarbans include generation of employment for local communities (INR 36 million year – EUR 446 thousand), moderation of cyclonic storms (INR 275 million year – EUR 3 million), provision of habitat and refugia for wildlife (INR 360 million year – EUR 4.4 million) and sequestration of carbon (INR 462 million year- EUR 5.7 million). These valuable services get distributed for the 44 per cent to the global society, 39 per cent goes to the national income and only 16 per cent of this services remains to the local people.

Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population4.426.000
Start Date18/02/2007
Relevant government actorsWest Bengal Forest Department; Minister of Environment and Forest;
International and Financial InstitutionsUNESCO - United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) from France
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) from Switzerland
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersAll Indian Uion of Forest Working People (AIFWP),

Dakshinbanga Matsyajibi Forum (DFM).

International Collective in Support of Fisher workers,;

Direct Initiative for Social and Health Action (DISHA),

Sundarban Jana Sramajibi Manch (SJSM)
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
Social movements
Trade unions
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationOfficial complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage)
Potential: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Health ImpactsVisible: Malnutrition
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights
Potential: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Specific impacts on women, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCriminalization of activists
Development of AlternativesThe proposal brought forward by the local activists and leaders is the full implementation of the Forest Rights Act in the area, in order to recognize the rights to every fisherman to fish and access to the natural resources. However, under the FRA the forest rights are recognized under the power of the gram sabha at the village level, while here it should be organized under fisher worker's cluster. This is the reason why FRA does not completely respond to the need of this environment, and a new framework would need to be created to recognize the rights of people without damaging the area.
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.People's rights continue to be denied and the voice of people not taken into consideration by the authorities. In this territory, the FRA has not been applied as the forest dwellers do not live within the forest area. Total unrecognition of the law and people's rights by the local and state government.
Sources and Materials

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act, 2006
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DISHA. "Traditional Fishers in the Sundarban Tiger Reserve". A study on livelihood practice under protected area. Study supported by International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF)
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Amrita Sen, Sarmistha Pattanaik. "Community-based Natural Resource Management in the Sundarbans".

Implications of Customary Rights, Law and Practices. Economic & Political Weekly (EPW) july 22, 2017 vol liI no 29
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Priyanka Ghosh. "Conservation And Conflicts In The Sundarban Biosphere Reserve, India". Geographocal Review
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Santanu Chacraverti. "THE SUNDARBANS FISHERS Coping in an Overly Stressed Mangrove Estuary", a Report by International Collective in Support of Fishworkers,
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Priyanka Ghosh. Conservation And Conflicts In The Sundarban Biosphere Reserve, India.
[click to view]


Fishermen and tigers struggle for survival in India's Sundarbans – in pictures
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Sundarbans: Fishing Struggle in time of Conservation
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12 fishermen held in Sundarbans for harassing tiger, prodding it with bamboo poles
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8 fishermen arrested in Sundarban
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12 fishermen held in Sundarbans for harassing tiger, prodding it with bamboo poles
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Breaking the Chains of ‘Historical Injustice’ Dalits and Adivasis assert their rights over the Sundarban Forest
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Report: people’s hearing on Sundarban forest
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Breaking the Chains of ‘Historical Injustice’

Dalits and Adivasis assert their rights over the Sundarban Forest
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5 fishermen held for catching fish illegally
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Fishing Struggle in time of Conservation
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Other Documents

Sundarban shore
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Sundarban Shore
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Boat Licence certificate (BLC) BLC with all the fines written by the forest department.
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BLC copy A copy of the BLC with all the fees given by the FD.
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Meta Information
ContributorEleonora Fanari, ICTA, [email protected]
Last update11/01/2019