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Oil spill yet to reach India, fear does

The oil spill on the Bangladesh side of the Sundarbans hasn’t reached Indian territory yet, officials claim. But fear of an ecological catastrophe has spread on both sides of the border.

So far, details of the consequences of the spill are limited to a handful of locals. Aboard a boat to his native Baghnan in South 24 Paraganas from Dhamakhali (North 24 Paraganas), Swapan Dalui, a fisherman, says, “I heard of the matter this morning. Will this affect us?”

As the boat is also carrying a few vernacular dailies to remote areas, Dalui’s neighbours might share his concerns soon.

Dalui says he noticed enhanced patrolling in the area in the wee hours, while on a four-hour boat ride from Baghnan on the banks of the Raymangal river, on the Indo-Bangladesh border.

Gobinda Das, secretary of Sundarbans Matsyajibi Joutha Sangram Committee, a body representing fishermen of the region, sounded a word of caution for authorities. “Some fishermen have said on the Raymangal river across the border, they found large fishes floating dead this morning. The reason is unknown, but we are asking authorities to check if it is due to the oil spill,” he told Business Standard.

On Tuesday, an oil tanker carrying more than 350,000 litres of bunker oil sank on the Sela river, a sanctuary for aquatic life flowing through the Sundarbans, after being hit by a cargo vessel. Following that, it has been reported the movements of dolphins, crocodiles, etc, in the region has already seen a drastic fall, especially in Sela and Pushur rivers in Bangladesh.

The Sundarbans, one of the 32 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India, is home to the Royal Bengal tiger, the Olive Ridley turtle, the Ganges dolphin and several migratory birds from Siberia, apart from various rare species of crocodiles.

“This sort of oil spill always threatens the survival of multiple species of flora and fauna. Because of tidal fluctuations, it might spread to the Indian part of the Sundarbans, too. We are keeping a tab. We will inform disaster management teams and other authorities concerned, if the situation demands,” said Ujjwal Kumar Bhattacharya, chief wildlife warden of West Bengal.

The Coast Guard and the Border Security Force (BSF), have however, allayed concern. “Two hovercraft have been deployed for patrolling. Besides, the BSF is also keeping vigil.

So far, there is no sign of the oil spreading to the Indian side of the Sundarbans. Also, there is no formal request for help from Bangladesh. If there is a request, we will do whatever is possible,” said P V Narasimhan, deputy inspector general, Coast Guard (Northeast).

Efforts of the authorities so far have drawn criticism from environmental activists. “Governments on both sides of the border do not understand the environment. It is a crisis, an ecological disaster. Time is running out; the government should do everything possible and help. There is modern technology available to take the spilt oil out,” said Nityanand Jayaraman, a Chennai-based environmental activist who has worked on mangrove conservation.

According to Dhaka-based environmental activist Kallo Mustafa, who is studying the oil spillage in Bangladesh, the government of that country has sent a ship carrying oil dispersants to the area. “The way oil is taken out by locals by sponges and similar material is ridiculous. Authorities seem to have no clue about the gravity of the disaster. The oil has already spread across 100 km and the entire Sundarbans will be immensely affected by this,” he told Business Standard over phone, adding carcasses of otters, water monitor lizards and some fishes had been found in the site.


SPILL FUELLING CONCERN

  • Some Indian fishermen claimed to have seen big dead fish floating on the Raymangal river across the border, but they are not sure if it is because of the oil spill
     
  • An environmental activist in Bangladesh said carcasses of otters, water monitor lizards and dead fish were seen in the area where the oil spill took place
     
  • Movement of dolphins, crocodiles, etc, has seen a drastic fall, in Sela and Pushur rivers in Bangladesh following the incident
     
  • The Indian Coast Guard said there was no sign of the oil spreading to the Indian side of the Sundarbans
     
  • Two hovercraft have been deployed for patrolling and monitor the situation
     
  • The forest department said it was keeping vigil as tidal fluctuations might cause the spilt oil to spread into the Indian part of the Sundarbans

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