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10 May 2018

Green activists see red on north rivers

The Mahananda river in Siliguri
Jayanta Basu, TT,  May 10, 2018 Calcutta: The Atreyi, the Teesta and three other north Bengal rivers have been severely affected by human encroachments and waste dumping, affecting marine life and livelihoods of local fishermen, an activist has said citing a study.

Tuhin Suvro Mondal was speaking at a recent convention in Calcutta where 10 other activists from north Bengal highlighted how other rivers and forests in the region had been harmed by the "failure of both the state and Union governments".

"We carried out a survey at various points across the Atreyi and found that the water quantity has significantly dwindled in the past few years. Pollution has increased manifold mainly due to mixing of pesticides that run off from agricultural fields as well as sewage water from at least 30 drains in Balurghat," Mondal, a member of NGO Dishari Sankalpa, said at the convention organised by environment forum Sabuj Mancha.

Mondal said that although they had already written to both governments seeking urgent steps to ensure Bangladesh does not "siphon off" the water from the Atreyi - an allegation that has grown in the past two years as the river flows in from the neighbouring country - nothing had been done on the ground. "Many fish species like Mahashole, Vyada, Bagha Ar, Putul have been lost forever while many others face a similar fate," Mondal said.

Jahiruddin Ahmed, another activist, highlighted the threat to the Sreemoti which flows through North Dinajpur and South Dinajpur, of which Balurghat is the district headquarters. "The river has all but turned into agricultural land and strangely, the local administration has recorded the riverbed land in the names of people," Ahmed said.

Soumitra Ghosh, from Siliguri NGO Nespon, drew attention to the dangers confronting the Teesta. "The situation has come to such a pass due to the failure of the state and Union governments. The Teesta, as well as the life and livelihoods of people living along it, have been affected by dams built over the river. Already, two dams have been constructed and another three are planned despite experts' warnings that the river may die as a consequence," Ghosh said.

Other speakers complained that the Mahananda, another of the major rivers in the region, has also been affected by illegal sand mining and waste dumping. One expert at the meeting said apart from man-made factors, natural causes like climate change - affecting the monsoon and snow melting in the hills - have contributed to the rivers' deteriorating health. Other rivers affected in the region include the Punorbhoba and the Tangon.

Forests in the terai have not been spared either and tree felling for government projects is common, others at the meeting said. "The state has been felling trees in north Bengal in violation of the Forest Rights Act," said Lal Sing Bhujel, convenor, Uttar Banga Van Jan Shromojivi Manch.

Anoter activist alleged that state agencies had already felled and planned to cut hundreds of trees to clear land for a rail line to Sikkim. "We have received number of complaints from north Bengal," said Naba Dutta, secretary of Sabuj Mancha.

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