Planning & Mitigation | VOL.10, ISSUE 59, MARCH-APRIL 2010

Embankments of Sunderban: A Legacy of Historical Blunder

Sunderban, or the part that falls within the boundaries of India, is located on the lower part of the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta along the Bay of Bengal, between Hugli estuary on the west and Ichamoti-Raimangal river on the east. Prone to varied natural disasters, from flooding to cyclones, Sunderban offers a fragile refuge to its teeming masses. Natural hazards cannot be prevented, but their impacts might be diminished if proper scientific remedial measures are adopted in time. From the beginning of our civilisation, embankments have been constructed to redress the damage incurred by monsoonal floods, and tidal and wave incursions during severe tropical cyclones affecting the coastal areas. From the last quarter of the 18th Century to the beginning of 19th Century, the British reclaimed the islands of Sunderban by placing a girder of water-front mud embankments along the coasts. However, as the insides of these loamy dynamic islands were lower than the surroundings, it resulted in depth differences in the post construction phase with serious and far-reaching environmental problems. In the British period, zamindars were the intermediaries between British rulers and their subjects, insofar as the socio-economic system was concerned. Following the technical advice of the British rulers, local zamindars constructed embankments by mobilising the poor peasantry without paying heed to proper and necessary engineering specifications. The purpose was clear - settle their subjects and...

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