Daily Current Affairs 21.01.2023( Wayanad becomes country’s first district to provide basic documents to all tribal people, SC declines to entertain petitions on caste census, New guidelines to regulate promotions on social media, Govt. policy muddle is stalling production of biodegradable plastic, The decline in China’s population will affect the rest of the world too, There is hardly any autonomy at the panchayat level, On the shifting banks of the Ganga)

Daily Current Affairs 21.01.2023( Wayanad becomes country’s first district to provide basic documents to all tribal people, SC declines to entertain petitions on caste census, New guidelines to regulate promotions on social media, Govt. policy muddle is stalling production of biodegradable plastic, The decline in China’s population will affect the rest of the world too, There is hardly any autonomy at the panchayat level, On the shifting banks of the Ganga)


1. Wayanad becomes country’s first district to provide basic documents to all tribal people

Wayanad Sub-Collector R. Sreelakshmi collecting details of tribal persons at the campaign in Pozhuthana. 

Wayanad becomes the first district in the country to provide basic documents and facilities such as Aadhaar card, ration card, birth/death certificates, election ID card, bank account and health insurance to all tribespeople.

The district administration has attained the achievement by providing 1,42,563 services to 64,670 tribal beneficiaries as part of the Akshaya Big Campaign for Document Digitisation (ABCD) campaign. These include ration card to 15,796 families, Aadhaar card to 31,252, birth certificate to 11,300, voters’ identity card to 22,488 and digital locker facilities to 22,888 persons. The drive was launched in November 2021 at Thondarnadu grama panchayat.

Wide coverage

Since all the relevant departments are brought under one roof in a camp, each beneficiary gets all the needed services at the camp itself, saving them the time and effort of visiting several offices, according to R. Sreelakshmi, Wayanad Sub-Collector.

Apart from the these, other services such as income certificate, ownership certificate, age certificate, and applications for new pensions are also provided, said Ms. Sreelakshmi, also the nodal officer of the programme.

2. SC declines to entertain petitions on caste census

Bench asks petitioner to approach High Court concerned; Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar welcomes the decision saying those trying to stop the survey have been proven wrong

The Supreme Court on Friday declined to entertain petitions challenging the caste census being undertaken in Bihar. Asking whether it was a “publicity interest litigation”, a Bench led by Justice B.R. Gavai refused to intervene while giving liberty to the petitioner, Ek Soch Ek Prayas, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), to seek appropriate remedies in law before the High Court concerned. The lawyer had argued that caste survey came under the Central List of the Constitution and a State did not have the authority to conduct it.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar welcomed the court’s decision, saying that while some people were trying to stop the survey, they had been proven wrong. Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav had termed the caste census a “historic step” to identify the most backward sections of the society through collection of scientific data and ensure that welfare measures reached them.

Two phases

The first phase of the survey began on January 7, 2023 and would continue till January 21. The second phase is from April. The Bihar Cabinet had decided to conduct the survey on June 2 last year.

Officials estimate the census would cover over 12 crore people and more than 2.5 crore households across the State. The survey is likely to be over by May 21.

SC’s displeasure

When the petition by NGO Ek Soch Ek Prayas came up for hearing, the top court questioned why the petitioners did not go to the Patna High Court over the matter. “So, this is a publicity interest litigation. How can we issue directions on how much reservation should be granted to such and such caste? Sorry, we can’t issue such directions and can’t entertain these petitions,” the Bench, comprising Justice Gavai and Justice Vikram Nath, told the counsel for the petitioners.

As many as three petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court against the caste survey. One petition had been filed by a Bihar resident named Akhilesh Kumar, the second by Ek Soch Ek Prayas, and the third by right-wing outfit Hindu Sena.

Speaking in Nalanda, Chief Minister Mr. Kumar said, “Today, the Supreme Court has refused to hear the petitions on caste survey. Some people were trying to stop it but they have been proven wrong.” Mr. Kumar is currently on a Samadhan Yatra (solution journey) across the State.

The ongoing caste survey involves gathering information on how many people live in each household, their castes, and socio-economic condition. After the survey concludes in May, its report is expected to be made public later.

3. New guidelines to regulate promotions on social media

The Centre on Friday released the endorsement guidelines for celebrities and social media influencers, mandating compulsory disclosure of monitory or material benefits of a product or a brand they are promoting through social media platforms. Failing to do so will attract a penalty of up to ₹50 lakh.

Releasing the guidelines, Union Consumer Affairs Secretary Rohit Kumar Singh said the disclosures must be prominently and clearly displayed in the endorsement and terms such as ‘advertisement’, ‘sponsored’ or ‘paid promotion’ should be used for all sort of endorsements. The step, he said, is after considering the increased use of social media for promotional activities that go beyond advertisements or advertorials in print or electronic media.

The guide ‘Endorsements Know-hows!’, created for celebrities, influencers and virtual influencers on social media platforms, aims to ensure that individuals do not mislead their audiences when endorsing products or services and that they are in compliance with the Consumer Protection Act. “With the increasing reach of digital platforms and social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, there has been a rise in the influence of virtual influencers, in addition to celebrities and social media influencers. This has led to an increased risk of consumers being misled by advertisements and unfair trade practices by these individuals on social media platforms,” the Ministry of Consumer Affairs said.

The guidelines specify that disclosures must be prominently and clearly displayed in the endorsement, making them “extremely hard to miss”. Benefits and incentives, and monetary or other compensation, trips or hotel stay, media barters, coverage and awards, free products with or without conditions, discounts, gifts and any family or personal or employment relationship come under material benefits according to the guidelines.

If there are violations, the penalty prescribed for misleading advertisements under the Consumer Protection Act 2019 will be applicable. In that case, the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) can impose a penalty of up to ₹ 10 lakh on manufacturers, advertisers and endorsers and for repeated offences, a penalty of up to ₹ 50 lakh can be imposed. The CCPA can also prohibit the endorser of a misleading advertisement from making any endorsement for up to one year and for subsequent contravention, prohibition can extend up to three years.

4. Govt. policy muddle is stalling production of biodegradable plastic

A long wait: It takes a minimum of two years to check if the plastics have 90% biodegradation. 

Several manufacturers stare at an uncertain future as a lack of coordination among multiple Ministries has led to a logjam in the production of alternatives to single-use plastic

Is ‘biodegradable’ plastic made in India actually biodegradable? Eight months after the Centre banned single-use plastic and paved the way for the use of biodegradable plastic, a lack of coordination among multiple ministries has led to the question remaining unanswered. A consequence of this is that many, who are now unable to manufacture single-use plastic goods and invested in making biodegradable alternatives, are unable to produce them and stare at an uncertain future.

“The BIS has established a provisional protocol of testing biodegradable plastic that says 90% biodegradation should be achieved to pass the test which may take upto two years,” said Sunil Panwar, CEO, Symphony Environmental India, which offers additive technologies that when added to regular single-use plastic makes them biodegradable.

Mr. Panwar’s and a few other firms have supplied this to small-scale plastic manufacturers in India. However they say they have run into a problem. Because it will take a minimum of two years to check if the plastics are 90% biodegradable, the Environment Ministry in its notification of July 2022 banning single-use plastic allowed manufacturers to get a ‘provisional certificate’ valid till June 2023 from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) allowing them to make biodegradable plastic goods.

Such a certificate could be procured if a manufacturer obtained an ‘interim’ test report.

“When I submitted an interim test report to the CPCB for a licence, it was rejected because they insisted that they would only consider a test that showed 90% degradation as valid. This is unfair as nowhere in the rules does it say that ‘interim’ means 90% [degradation],” Divesh, proprietor, Siddhivinayak Polymers, Ahmedabad, told The Hindu.

An official affiliated to the Environment Ministry, who declined to be identified, told The Hindu that the agency’s hands were tied. “The CPCB doesn’t create the standards or the rules. As long as the CIPET can say that the tested product is biodegradable, it can give the certificate. But if the CIPET says that a product has degraded 5% or 10%, in a certain period, the CPCB can’t assume it will disintegrate entirely.”

5. Editorial-1: Aging factory

The decline in China’s population will affect the rest of the world too

The last time China’s population saw a decline was in 1961, in the midst of a devastating four-year famine following Mao’s failed “Great Leap Forward” campaign. The latest decline in population, however, is no blip. The shrinking of the world’s most populous country by as much as 8,50,000 in 2022 marks a watershed moment with lasting consequences for China and the world. Beijing announced on January 17 that births in China last year dropped by more than 10% to 9.56 million, with 10.41 million deaths. The 1.411 billion population will certainly be overtaken by India’s this year. China’s population story holds lessons for countries that have tried robust interventions in social engineering. China has spent the greater part of two decades trying — and failing — to get families to boost birth rates that have been declining since the government introduced a harsh “one-child policy” in 1980. The belated introduction in 2016 of a “two-child policy” to course correct was not met with the enthusiasm that planners had expected for a relaxation announced with fanfare. A government survey found that 70% would not have more children citing financial reasons.

China’s economy is already feeling the impact of demographic change. The 16-59 working age population (2022), was 875 million, a decline of around 75 million since 2010. Wages are rising, and labour-intensive jobs are moving out, predominantly to Southeast Asia. The above-60 population, meanwhile, had increased by 30 million to 280 million. The number of elderly will peak at 487 million by 2050 (35% of the population). China’s National Working Commission on Ageing estimates spending on health care for the elderly will take up 26% of the GDP by 2050. Signs are China is already on track to follow Japan’s example of a prolonged period of a shrinking workforce with declining growth. As a paper from Japan’s Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry pointed out, the proportion of child and elderly populations in China as of 2020 was similar to Japan’s in 1990. Moreover, China reached this inflection point faster, with its fertility rate falling from 2.74 to 1.28 in the preceding four-decade period, while Japan’s fell from 1.75 to 1.29. The paper pointed out that India’s proportion of child and elderly population in 2020 was similar to China’s in 1980, just when its economic boom took off. That was made possible only by making the most of its demographic dividend by investing heavily in health care and education to fashion a workforce capable of powering what would become the world’s factory.

6. There is hardly any autonomy at the panchayat level

The powers of local elected officials remain curtailed by State governments and local bureaucrats in multiple ways, thereby diluting the spirit of the constitutional amendments aimed at local empowerment

A few weeks ago, Balineni Tirupati, an up-sarpanch in Telangana’s Jayashankar Bhupalpally district, committed suicide due to indebtedness. He had taken out a loan to undertake development works in the village and was unable to bear the burden after the State government’s inordinate delay in releasing bill payments.

A few days before the incident, a few sarpanchs from the incumbent Bharatiya Rashtra Samiti (BRS) — Telangana’s ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti now renamed as the BRS — resigned from office and voiced their anger at not receiving government funds for nearly a year.

Sarpanchs alleged that the failure of the State government to release funds in time has forced them to utilise either private resources or borrow large amounts to complete panchayat activities and meet various targets.

More than three decades after the 73rd and 74th Amendment Acts, which gave constitutional status to local governments, State governments, through the local bureaucracy, continue to exercise considerable discretionary authority and influence over panchayats. In India, the powers of local elected officials (such as these sarpanchs in Telangana) remain seriously circumscribed by State governments and local bureaucrats in multiple ways, thereby diluting the spirit of the constitutional amendments seeking to empower locally elected officials.

We analysed statutory provisions of Panchayat Acts in various States and spoke to several sarpanchs and local bureaucrats to assess the extent of decentralisation of powers to panchayats. It quickly became very clear to us that sarpanchs need to have administrative or financial autonomy for meaningful decentralisation.

The issue of funding

Gram panchayats remain fiscally dependent on grants (both discretionary and non-discretionary grants) from the State and the Centre for everyday activities. Broadly, panchayats have three main sources of funds — their own sources of revenue (local taxes, revenue from common property resources, etc.), grants in aid from the Centre and State governments, and discretionary or scheme-based funds. Their own sources of revenue (both tax and non-tax) constitute a tiny proportion of overall panchayat funds. For instance, in Telangana, less than a quarter of a panchayat’s revenue comes from its own sources of revenue.

Further, access to discretionary grants for panchayats remains contingent on political and bureaucratic connections.

Even when higher levels of government allocate funds to local governments, sarpanchs need help accessing them. An inordinate delay in transferring approved funds to panchayat accounts stalls local development. In Telangana, this has forced sarpanchs to use private funds for panchayat activities to fulfil mandated targets and avoid public pressure. Delays in the disbursement of funds by the local bureaucracy have led to pressure on sarpanchs leading some to end their life.

There are also severe constraints on how panchayats can use the funds allocated to them. State governments often impose spending limits on various expenditures through panchayat funds. This could include quotidian activities such as purchasing posters of national icons, refreshments for visiting dignitaries, or distributing sweets in a local school at national festivals.

Moreover, in almost all States, there is a system of double authorisation for spending panchayat funds. Apart from sarpanchs, disbursal of payments requires bureaucratic concurrence. The sarpanch and the panchayat secretary, who reports to the Block Development Officer (BDO), must co-sign cheques issued for payments from panchayat funds.

The taxing process of seeking approvals

State governments also bind local governments’ through the local bureaucracy. Approval for public works projects often requires technical approval (from the engineering department) and administrative approval from local officials of the rural development department, such as the block development officer, a tedious process for sarpanchs that requires paying multiple visits to government offices. It is also not unusual to find higher-level politicians and bureaucrats intervening in selecting beneficiaries for government programmes and limiting the power of sarpanchs further. We surveyed sarpanchs in Haryana’s Palwal district and found that they spend a substantial amount of time visiting government offices and meeting local bureaucrats, and waiting to be seen or heard. Sarpanchs reported that they need to be in the “good books” of politicians and local bureaucrats if they wanted access to discretionary resources, timely disbursement of funds, and be able to successfully execute any project or programme in their village.

The ability of sarpanchs to exercise administrative control over local employees is also limited. In many States, the recruitment of local functionaries reporting to the panchayat, such as village watchmen or sweepers, is conducted at the district or block level. Often the sarpanch does not even have the power to dismiss these local-level employees.

The shadow of bureaucrats

Unlike elected officials at other levels, sarpanchs can be dismissed while in office. Gram Panchayat Acts in many States have empowered district-level bureaucrats, mostly district Collectors, to act against sarpanchs for official misconduct. For instance, Section 37 of the Telangana Gram Panchayat Act allows District Collectors to suspend and dismiss incumbent ssarpanchs. On what grounds can Collectors act against sarpanchs? Apart from abuse of power, embezzlement, or misconduct, the conditions include mere refusal to “carry out the orders of the District Collector or Commissioner or Government for the proper working of the concerned Gram Panchayat”.

This is not merely a legal provision. Across the country, there are regular instances of bureaucrats deciding to dismiss sarpanchs from office. In Telangana, more than 100 sarpanchs have been dismissed from office in recent years. In one such case, the official reason was a protest (by boycotting an official programme) against the denial of land for an electric substation.

The situation in Telangana is a reminder for State governments to re-examine the provisions of their respective Gram Panchayat laws and consider greater devolution of funds, functions, and functionaries to local governments. State-level politicians and government officials resist giving sarpanchs power because they feel that sarpanchs will misuse funds allocated to a village. This is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. India has limited decentralisation because if local governments get genuine autonomy to allocate the monies, power will shift from the MLAs and State government-controlled bureaucracy to the sarpanch.

7. On the shifting banks of the Ganga

Erosion in Pratapganj and Mahestola areas of Dhuliyan in West Bengal’s Murshidabad district

Erosion along the banks of the river has left hundreds of people homeless in West Bengal. Shiv Sahay Singh reports from Murshidabad and Malda districts on the changing topography and challenges it poses

Normal oscillation of the river was interrupted after the construction of the Farakka Barrage. It reduced the cross-sectional area of the river, it reduced the water holding capacity and compelled the river to change its course.

A few weeks after several structures, including houses and a crematorium with a Kali temple, were washed away by the river Ganga, villagers atPratapganjandMahestolain Murshidabad’s Shamsherganj block organised an elaborate puja but to a deity they had never seen or worshipped in the past — a goddess dressed in all-white, seated on a gharial and fish.

“This is Goddess Ganga. The people here are desperate and are trying everything to stop the erosion,” says Satyam Sarkar, a member of Bogdadnagar panchayatsamiti.

Several houses have been reduced to rubble, and many others are poised precariously on the eroding banks of the vast flowing river along this stretch bordering Dhuliyan municipality.

The extent of erosion is such that thousands of people from nearby and far-off areas started coming here every day, Sarkar, a local Trinamool Congressleader, says. “It was like a mela (fair), they were coming to see the erosion. We had to put up barricades to prevent people from coming.”

Four months after the massive erosion in September 2022 left hundreds of people homeless, Pratapganj andMahestolaare pictures of devastation. Elaborately built two-storied houses on the edge of the river lie vacant. A part of a road running parallel to the river has caved in, and thousands of sand bags have been placed along the river to prevent further erosion.Now, in the winter, the river flows calmly with several small fishing boats flying Indian flags out in the water.

Delawar Hossain, a friend of Sarkar, says that only a few hundred metres downstream, a burial ground at Sadikpara was swept away this monsoon. “At Kamalpur, my village, which is about 3 km downstream, a masjid, a health centre and a primary school are hanging on the edge and can fall into the river any day,” he says.

A primary school and an anganwadi centre at Pratapganj tell the story of sufferings. One room at the anganwadi now serves as home to four families. On a Sunday afternoon, Menaka Ravidas is busy cooking lunch for her family as she narrates how her home was washed away: “It was at about 9 a.m. on September 6, the river was in full spate and in minutes took away our house. Since it was morning and not night, we could somehow escape.”

Outside the anganwadi centre, there are few cabins made of jute sticks where families displaced by the Ganga have found shelter.Several families are taking shelter at Pratapganj Primary School after their homes were washed away. Five-six families are huddled in every classroom. Clothes are left to dry across the school compound and children play in the classrooms.For more than two dozen families, there are only two toilets and two bathrooms.

“How can we live like this and for how long?” Jyotsana Sarkar, awoman in her forties, asks.SatyamSarkar says that he has prepared a list of 140 families who have been displaced, but admits that there is not enough land where they can be accommodated. “We, five brothers, live together,” Sarkar says, pointing at their houses and then expressing his greatest fear in a whisper: “The river is only a hundred metres away.”

In the ‘meander belt’

Kalyan Rudra,Chairman of the West Bengal Pollution Control Boardand author ofRivers of the Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna Delta, describes the erosion of the Ganga both upstream and downstream of the Farakka Barrage as “anthropogenically-induced erosion”. He explains that the rivers of Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna (GBM) delta have a tendency to oscillate and erode in an area which is called the meander belt.

“Normal oscillation of the river was interrupted after the construction of the Farakka Barrage. It reduced the cross-sectional area of the river, it reduced the water holding capacity and compelled the river to change its course,” Rudra contends. The primary objective of the Farakka Barrage Project was to divert an adequate quantity of Ganga waters to the Bhagirathi-Hooghly river system through a 38.38-km-long feeder canal for preservation and maintenance of Kolkata Port by improving navigability.

Rudra points out that the barrage has converted the river into a stagnant pool holding 87,000 million cubic metres of water and the river has deposited sediment upstream in Malda, particularly between Farakka and Manikchak. Citing several publications, he says that the sediment load carried annually by the Ganga has been estimated to be around 736-800 million tonnes.

This sediment deposition is leading to the emergence of chars (river islands) in Malda. Here, according to Rudra, the river is eroding on the left bank, and the relatively sediment-free water downstream Farakka is eroding the right bank in Murshidabad; in both these cases, West Bengal is losing land.“If we look at the map of Malda, we see that the river has formed a mighty bend between Manikchak and Farakka Barrage and more than 200 sq. km have been eroded along the left bank of the river,” says the river expert. He argues that an urgent exercise is needed to designate the boundary between West Bengal and Jharkhand and identify the chars in the river as West Bengal territory.

It is difficult to locate these bends along the bank of the river in Malda, where the river appears to be several kilometres wide. Despite the calm, uprooted trees, huts razed to ground and large areas on the river bank covered with sand from the river are pointers to how the river impacts the region. In the Hukmatola area of Gopalpur gram panchayat of Malda’s Manikchak block, the river bank looks like it has been hit by a tropical storm. Everything seems to be broken, houses, cattle sheds, even trees. A little girl tries to find something from the rubble of what appears to be her house.

On November 21, 2022, the villagers facing recurrent erosion held demonstrations outside the office of the District Magistrate, Malda.They now point at a char that has formed between two banks of the river, exacerbating the erosion on the left bank, something Rudra had referred to. Like in Pratapganj in Murshidabad, Gopalpur gram panchayat’s Md Mustafa Sheikh faces a similar situation — there is not enough land to settle the people displaced by erosion.

Point of entry

In Malda, Ratua MLA Samar Mukherjee insists that one needs to see the point from where the Ganga enters West Bengal to understand the complex river morphology and “diagnose the disease” of erosion. He explains that the river enters his constituency at Mahanandatola, where sand is deposited for several hundred metres on the bank of the river. His ancestral house, where he lives alone with several dogs, is less than 500 m from the river.

The mighty river enters the West Bengal plains from Rajmahal hills of Jharkhand’s Sahebganj district after a long journey of 2,000 km from the Himalayas as it begins to break away into distributaries. The Ganga divides into two major distributaries, Padma and Bhagirathi-Hooghly, at Mithipur in Murshidabad district, which is located about 40 km downstream of Farakka. The Padma carries the bulk of the discharge, flows about 65 km along the India-Bangladesh border, and finally leaves Indian territory at Jalangi. The Bhagirathi-Hooghly branch, which is fed by waters from the feeder canal of the Farakka Barrage, flows southward from Mithipur for 500 km before merging into the Bay of Bengal at Sagar Island.

In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 17, 2022, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee referred to the river erosion in Manikchak block: “In fact, the extent of erosion has been so severe that the distance between the two banks of rivers, the Ganga and the Fulhar, has come down to only 1.5 km at Billaimari village of Manikchak block in Malda district, from its earlier distance of 4 km in 2004, thus posing serious threats to the adjoining villages and even to the safety of the National Highway 131A.” She had also written a letter to the Prime Minister on February 21, 2022.

A visit to Billaimari, just adjacent to Mahanandtola, shows that Banerjee’s concerns are not unjustified. While the Ganga is eroding on the left bank, the Fulhar is eroding on the right bank, with local residents sandwiched between the two rivers. The entire village of Billaimari seems to be taking shelter on the embankments. A few decades ago, when the Fulhar was overflowing, the villagers sought refuge on the banks of the Ganga; over the past few years, it is Ganga which is in spate.Along the bank of the Ganga, large agricultural fields have turned into desert, with sand deposited by the river. Roads have been swept away, and a remnant of an old bridge can be spotted.

“We are facing erosion every year. This year again we lost a hundred houses,” says Abdur Rauf, an elderly villager of Naya Billaimari. Amidst the crowd of villagers is young Shamshul Johar, a daily-wage earner in Kashmir who explains how the changing course of the river changed the course of his life, compelling him to drop out of school.With every year, the river is eating into land, agriculture has suffered and young people like Shamshul have little option but to migrate out for work. They work as construction workers in the western and southern States; and with their savings they build the houses which are in turn swept away by the river.

Villagers at Pratapganj in Murshidabad and Gopalpur and Billaimari in Malda say that boulder pitching along embankments is the only solution to their plight. “We cannot stop the river,” points out Rudra, adding that for the past three decades, embankments protectionin the form ofboulder pitching on the banks has not yielded the desired results. He argues that only engineering solutions will not work and calls for adopting the holistic science of river management as well as comprehensive land use plans for vulnerable areas. Emphasising that the GBM delta is one of the youngest deltas in the world where land is yet to solidify, Rudra says there is a need to generate awareness among the people: “People should understand that this is the land of the river and the river needs space to play.”

The Chief Minister, in her communications, highlighted that the Farakka Barrage Project Authority should take up anti-erosion work both upstream and downstream in a more comprehensive manner — whichRudra endorses.He reckons that the number of people displaced by the river in the past few decades is not less than 2,00,000 in Malda and Murshidabad districts, and says the top priority should be rehabilitation of people displaced by the river erosion. He emphasises that people staying on the chars must have access to all civic and social infrastructure, like health and education.

A recent publication, “Impact offloodsand river-bank erosion on the riverine people in Manikchak Block of Malda District, West Bengal” by Rakhi Das and Gopa Samanta, details the socio-economic profile of people living in the chars and the riparian mainland: “Migration is a common phenomenon in the study area. People come from Jharkhand and other parts of Manikchak to live in the chars. They live in these temporary houses as they cannot afford to make permanent houses because of high land cost and… uncertainty of land, since it can be washed away by the river at any point of time.”

Samanta,a professor at theUniversity of Burdwan, says people living in areas prone to erosion continuously make micro-adjustments to survive, and the chars, where people displaced by the erosion have taken shelter, are largely “ungovernable spaces”.

Awaiting solutions

At a meeting of the National Ganga Council in Kolkata on December 30, chaired by the Prime Minister virtually, the Chief Minister raised the issue of erosion in the entireDhuliyanregion (which includes Pratapganj) of Murshidabad district. She blamed the Farakka Barrage for the river erosion.

While the river erodes and eats into the landmass, it has for centuries also remained a subject of awe and veneration. The river erosion is not only limited to Malda and Murshidabad, but is felt in Kolkata and up to the mouth of the river. Recently, parts of Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden set up in 1787 on the western bank of the river in Howrah have also suffered erosion. At the mouth of the river, where it meets the sea at Gangasagar, every year on the occasion of Makar Sankranti, lakhs of people descend on Sagar Island to take a dip. The beach in front of Kapil Muni temple where the river is believed to meet the sea is severely eroded and the pilgrims are turned away to other beaches. Only a few metres from the eroded beach, the administration, with much pomp, organised an elaborate ‘Ganga Aarti’ similar to Varanasi’s.

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