Sundarbans residents sail hard to cast votes

April 19th, 2009 - 2:41 pm ICT by IANS  

By Soudhriti Bhabani
Sundarbans (West Bengal), April 19 (IANS) For thousands of voters in West Bengal’s mangrove forested Sundarbans Island, balloting will not be a smooth sailing affair. They will have to come by boats through the narrow creeks and water channels that criss-cross the delta area to exercise their franchise.

Small boats are the only means of transport left for the electorates there, and that too depends on the tidal timing.

“It’s a major problem for the electorate in Sundarbans as they have to come by boats in many areas. For the Election Commission, it’s also a problem as we have to ferry our poll personnel to the booths by boat. The entire forest region is crisscrossed by rivers,” West Bengal Joint Chief Electoral Officer N.K Sahana told IANS.

He said: “The Election Commission provides every means of support to the poll personnel so that they can reach the remotest parts of Sundarbans to conduct the polls in a fair and peaceful manner.

“These remote areas, mainly accessible by boats, form part of seven assembly segments - Gosaba, Basanti, Pathar Pratima, Sagar, Hingalganj, Sandeshkhali and Haroa.”

According to statistics available with the poll panel, the total number of election officers moved by boats during polls is 486 in Sundarbans region. The polling booths are located in school buildings now - a far cry from the time they would be located on big-sized boats and people used to cast votes on the floating vessel.

The seven segments in Sundarbans come under three different Lok Sabha seats - Jaynagar, Mathurapur in South 24 Pargans and Basirhat in North 24 Parganas district.

“But things have improved marginally with the development of road infrastructure and availability of rickshaws in almost all the islands,” said Tushar Kanjilal, who runs a welfare organisation - Tagore Society for Rural Development - there.

“Earlier, the picture was very grim. I remember when I first came to an island, Rangabelia, in 1967 there was no facility available during the election time. People had no way to cast their votes. There was virtually no road or transport system available.

“I have been working for the cause of Sundarbans people and I see them suffering during poll time,” he said.

Located in Kolkata’s neighbouring South 24 Parganas district, Sundarbans is a vast area covering 4,262 sq km, including a mangrove cover of 2,125 sq km in India alone, with a larger portion in Bangladesh.

The deltaic belt, a vast tract of forest and saltwater swamps, is located at the lower part of the Ganges delta, extending 260 km along the Bay of Bengal from the Hooghly river estuary in India to the Meghna river estuary in Bangladesh.

The alluvial archipelago called Sundarbans, a World Heritage site declared by UNESCO, is part of the world’s largest delta formed by the rivers Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna. The whole tract of forest reaches inland for about 100-130 km from the confluence.

“Now the problems of communication and transportation in most parts of Gosaba, Sandeshkhali, Hingalganj, Patharpratima and Basanti islands are not as acute as it was 20 years before,” Kanjilal said.

(Soudhriti Bhabani can be contacted at soudhriti.b@ians.in)

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