The central government on Tuesday announced a Rs 50- million financial package to save from extinction Assam's Majuli, the largest river island in South Asia, large swathes of which are being eroded by annual floods in the Brahmaputra.
"The special financial grant is for a period of five years, effective from this year, and aimed at protecting and conserving the rich and unique cultural heritage of Majuli, besides the eco-system, threatened by the annual floods and heavy erosion," Environment and Forest Minister Jairam Ramesh told reporters.
The minister was on a day-long visit to Majuli - an island of about 150,000 people, 320 km east of Assam's capital Guwahati.
Majuli once covered a prosperous 1,500 sq km that was dotted with Hindu monasteries. This was some time before India's independence in 1947.
Today Majuli is in danger - the island now reduced to just about 421.65 sq km and prone to extensive flooding and erosion.
"We cannot let Majuli's identity be lost and this effort will go a long way in conserving the island. We will soon try and declare Majuli as an eco-sensitive region and ensure all support and assistance from the Government of India's side," the minister said.
The threat to Majuli's existence began in 1950 after a severe earthquake shifted the riverbed and caused massive silting that in turn led to heavy erosion, especially during the monsoon.
Majuli has been the cultural capital of Assam since the 16th century when social reformer Sankardeva, who preached a monotheist form of Hinduism called Vaishnavism, visited the island and established monasteries and hermitages known as 'satras'.
The monasteries apart, the island is known for its exquisite pottery made from beaten clay and burnt in driftwood-fired kilns.
"Majuli is a region of unique bird and fish bio-diversity, an elephant corridor, besides tigers are also spotted and you have the Satras that makes the island stand out as a great cultural landscape and a site of outstanding universal properties," Ramesh said.
Assam Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain, who accompanied Ramesh, was jubilant with the financial package.
"We hope the financial package and the interest shown by the central government would go a long way in protecting and conserving the rich heritage of Majuli," Hussain said.