In what could add a new chapter to bilateral equations between the sub-continental neighbours, a team of policy makers and scientists from India and Bangladesh would set out on a unique three-day boat ride from Kolkata to Khulna in Bangladesh via the Sunderbans.
Over the three-day jaunt, they would discuss and debate on ways to save the delta and develop a future roadmap for its survival.
The boat ride would kick off from Millennium Park on March 16. They would sail along the Hooghly and reach Sunderbans before crossing the Raimangal River to enter Bangladesh. Once there, they would set sail for Khulna.
Scientists and environment activists working in the Sunderbans have been claiming that collaboration between India and Bangladesh is a must to saving the delta. They believe a joint effort of this kind would also help flag the issue of survival of the delta at the international level.
The world’s largest mangrove forest and home to the endangered Royal Bengal tiger, Sunderbans draws visitors from across the globe round the year. It is also said to be the saviour of Kolkata as the mangrove absorbs most of the fury of storms before they hit the city. More than two-thirds of the forest lies in Bangladesh and the rest in Bengal.
The unique workshop is being organised jointly by two leading world organisations on nature and wildlife conservation-WWFIndia and IUCN-Bangladesh. Biman Banerjee, speaker of the state assembly, is to lead the contingent and MLAs and ministers from India.
“We are planning to accommodate at least four ministers and four scientists from each of the two countries. Workshops and sensitisation programmes would be held on board the vessel for three days. The boat is expected to reach Khulna on the night of March 19,” Anurag Danda, head of the Sunderbans chapter of WWF-India, said.
The objective is to find out a future roadmap and get some form of commitment from the policymakers on the efforts that could be taken to save the delta from ruin. Till date, there has been no concrete plan to address the issues threatening the Sunderbans.
As the delta straddles the two countries and majority of it falls in Bangladesh, any effort that doesn’t involve cooperation between the neighbours is bound to fail. Several such issues as river pollution, climate change, population pressure and conservation of wildlife could be best addressed by way of a collaborative effort, experts said.
Though a similar effort had been undertaken four years back, the boat didn’t cross the international riverine border and came back to Kolkata after reaching the Sunderbans.
During a discussion at state assembly earlier this year, the MLAs from the Sunderbans region debated on ways to save the delta.
“If the issue of saving the Sunderbans needs to be raised at the international level, then the two neighbors have to come together. This effort can set the ball rolling,” Tapas Paul, senior environment specialist at World Bank, said.