10 December 2010

Transport In Sunderbans - 1: Dicing With Death

The tragedy in Kakdwip, where about 300 passengers were travelling in a mechanised country boat while returning from a country fair in Hijli has left people stunned by the enormity in the number of deaths that occurred. Three villages in Kakdwip block have suddenly lost many of their family members. Every house has been struck by tragedy and a pall of grief hangs over the village. The response from the administration and the political parties has been quick in terms of providing some monetary relief and emotional support to all those affected.

The Kakdwip incident led us to enquire more closely the ways in which our union members travel in the Sunderbans. We examined transport facilities available in 10 blocks of South 24 Parganas viz Mathurapur 1 and 2, Canning 2, Gosaba, Mandirbazar, Kulpi, Kakdwip, Namkhana, Sagar , Pathar Pratima and Kultali, and also looked at some secondary reports on the Sunderbans .

This enquiry has re-confirmed our view that this incident is the rule rather than exception. Overcrowding and travelling in conditions which are inhuman as well as dangerous are the daily experience of those who are poor in India. Just one night spent in the unreserved compartment of any busy train or a single ride in the evening rush hour Bongaon or Lakshmikantapur local or a bus ride in a remote area in Bengal provide enough proof for this. The use of river transport in the Sunderbans just adds to the risks involved in travelling as in addition to overcrowding, the poor in the Sunderbans  have to deal with all the dangers inherent in travelling in water ways.

Our enquiry has clearly shown that relief may be an immediate and necessary reaction to such an accident.  However, it is even more important that longer term measures be taken to stop such incidents from taking place in the future.

Related Post: Transport in Sunderbans - 2: No Safety on Rivers Or Roads 

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