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Sahara India Eco Tourism Project in Sundarbans, West Bengal, India


Description:

The Sunderban spanning both in India and Bangladesh contains the world's largest region of mangrove forests. The Indian side of Sunderban, is covering about 9,630 sq. km. The area is rich in marine as well as fresh water flora and fauna.

Sundarban is also the largest tiger reserve and home of famous Royal Bengal Tiger. The area is part of the world’s largest delta (26,000 sq. km.) formed from the sedimentation of three large rivers, the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna. These three rivers converge on the Bengal Basin. Looking at its rich biodiversity, Sunderban was recognized as a biosphere reserve and awarded the status of a World Heritage Site in 1997 by the UNESCO. [1].

Sahara India group signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with the West Bengal government in November 2003 for jointly implementing a tourism project in the Sundarbans. This MoA was signed to make Sundarban as the global tourism hub, accommodating about 75% on the floating Boat houses and 25% on-shore cottages, huts and tents.

The complex would equipped all modern recreation facilities to explore the creeks of the deltaic estuary [4].

According to the then Chief Minister of West Bengal Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee the State cabinet had taken a decision to provide the Sahara group with land necessary for the project. The initial estimated cost of the project was about Rs 500 crore. The Sahara project is proposed to be located mostly in the buffer area of the Sundarban Tiger Reserve [2]. The company assured direct and indirect employment of thousands of people. Besides, the project is said to bring about overall development in surrounding areas." [3] The proposed project will affect the livelihood of local fisherman community who are dependent on the fishing for the generations in the areas. As an initiative to give land to Sahara Group, over 10,000 Sunderbans fishermen were evicted from Jambudwip Island by the West Bengal government in 2003-2004. Also, government put a ban on fishing in the area. As a result fishermen had been unable to fish because of the ban. Even the fish drying activities on the sea shore had been stopped, while the government had claimed these activities were going on in alternative sites [6].

Because of the protest from the various groups as well as local farmers, fishermen and villagers the Sahara Project was shelved. However, the project was not been officially discarded. Many other big investors also shown their interest in Eco tourism project in Sundarban. Government had also shown its interest to such kinds of Mega Tourism in Sundarban [4].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Sahara India Eco Tourism Project in Sundarbans, West Bengal, India
Country:India
State or province:West Bengal
Location of conflict:Islands- Sagar, Fraserjunj, L-Plot, Kaikhali, Jharkhali,Jambudwip, South 24 Parganas
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Tourism Recreation
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Tourism facilities (ski resorts, hotels, marinas)
Specific commodities:Land
Biological resources

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Sahara India’s mega-tourism project would span about 36,000 sq.kms of water area spanning five Virgin Islands in the Sundarban Delta. The proposed project will be built in many different islands namely Sagar, Fraserganj, L- Plot, Kaikhali, Jharkhali and others. It will occupy about 750 acres of lands. The project will accommodate about 75% on the floating Boat houses and 25% on-shore cottages, huts and tents. The complex would equipped all modern recreation facilities to explore the creeks of the deltaic estuary [4]

Project area:364
Level of Investment:$ 82,150,979 (500 Crore)
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:10,000-20,000
Start of the conflict:2003
Company names or state enterprises:Sahara India Pariwar (Sahara) from India - Executor
Relevant government actors:Government of West Bengal
Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Equations (Web Site http://www.equitabletourism.org/)
Society for Direct Initiative for Social and Health Action (Disha)
Fishworkers’ Organisations
Local Villagers
Citizens

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Public campaigns

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil contamination
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Land dispossession
Potential: Loss of landscape/sense of place

Outcome

Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Strengthening of participation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Project cancelled
Development of alternatives:Sunderbans is a globally recognized as ecologically sensitive area. Local villagers as well as scientists and environmental activists were surprised with the proposed project on a highly eco-sensitive zone internationally recognised as World Heritage Site. The area is already under threat of many human activities. The area is experiencing erosion on many islands and is economically important. The risk and threat to the marine ecology due to this project is far too great and will affect the entire ecology and environment of the Sunderbans. Hence the project should have been rejected [1]
The protestors also pointed that the public hearing conducted for the project was done without proper public notice. The Government was approached a number of times by public forums and civil society organisations but there was total lack of transparency and response. The project will affect thousands of fishermen and small farmers. So the immediate stop all activities related to this project was demanded [4]
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Because of the protest from the various groups as well as local farmers, fishermen and villagers the Sahara Project was shelved. However, the project was not been officially discarded. Many other big investors also shown their interest in Eco tourism project in Sundarban. Government had also shown its interest to such kinds of Mega Tourism in Sundarban [4].

Sources & Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Forest (Conservation) Act 1980
http://envfor.nic.in/legis/forest/gsr23(e).htm

West Bengal Marine Fishing Act, 1993
http://wiego.org/sites/wiego.org/files/resources/files/fw_wb_1993.pdf

The Biological Diversity Act, 2002 & Rules
http://apbiodiversity.ap.nic.in/pdf/Biodiversity_book.pdf

Coastal Aquaculture Authority Act & Rules
http://www.caa.gov.in/

The Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972
http://envfor.nic.in/legis/wildlife/wildlife1.html

Coastal Regulation Zone Notification 2011
http://www.moef.nic.in/downloads/public-information/CRZ-Notification-2011.pdf

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Equations - "Who Really Benefits from Tourism?"
https://archive.org/stream/WhoReallyBenefitsFromTourism-WorkingPaperSeries2007-08/WhoReallyBenefitsFromTourismWorkingPaperSeries2007_08#page/n1/mode/2up

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[1] Resisting the sell-out of Sunderban
http://www.equitabletourism.org/files/fileDocuments716_uid13.pdf

[3] Sahara to set up Rs 500 cr 'floating city' in Sunderbans
http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2003-11-28/news/27553939_1_sunderbans-project-subrata-roy

[4] A Study On – Corporate Abuse In Sundarban
http://www.dishaearth.org/Corporate%20Abuse%20in%20Sunderban.pdf

[5] Citizens’ Protest Against Sahara Mega-Tourism Project In Sunderban
http://www.dishaearth.org/Letter%20of%20protest%20against%20SAHARA%20tourism.pdf

[6]The Sunderbans KILLER ASSAULT
http://archive.tehelka.com/story_main7.asp?filename=Ne102304KILLER_ASSAULT.asp

Sahara and the Sunderbans - Ecotourism or Megatourism?
http://indiaresource.org/issues/globalization/2004/saharasunderbans.html

Amitav Gosh on the "eco-tourism" project
http://www.amitavghosh.com/essays/folly.html

[2] Sahara to make Sundarbans global tourist destination
http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/mag/2004/06/13/stories/2004061300440700.htm

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Contributor:Swapan Kumar Patra
Last update19/09/2014