Sea water fit only for gardening, say experts

Antara Das

Kolkata, Nov. 13

Visitors to Digha, the popular sea resort in West Bengal that plays host to around 16 lakh tourists every year, are in for a nasty surprise - the shimmering sea water there has been considered by experts as unfit for all activities other than gardening.

"The shallow coastal water, highly contaminated with colliform bacteria from the inflowing untreated sewage as well as having high iron content and hardness, is, however, being extensively used by the hotels and local people," said Dr Sugata Hazra, Director, School of Oceanographic Studies, Jadavpur University.

To tackle these pollution concerns as well as problems of coastal erosion, loss of biodiversity and lack of administrative coordination, the Digha Shankarpur Development Authority (DSDA) has recently submitted a perspective plan containing a list of recommendations for the Integrated Coastal Zone Management of the area.

Nine mouzas in the area have already become depopulated, unable to bear the stress resulting from coastal erosion and inundation while 60 per cent of the local population in certain villages lies below the poverty line, Dr Hazra said. In fact, an overemphasis on tourism development in the area is leading to unplanned growth, at odds with the overall environmental management strategy.

"There is need for overall socio-economic development of the region, with proper schools and colleges, improved health facilities and resource mobilisation to generate earnings," said Mr Ananda Deb Mukhopadhyay, Chairman, DSDA.

"To that end, we have suggested setting up industries based on fish and food products, growing medicinal plants, developing aquaculture and generating biofuel from plants such as jatropha and polang (a local species)," he said.

"The sewage can be organically treated and utilised for sewage fed fisheries, on the lines of the East Kolkata wetlands," Dr Hazra said. "A nominal development fee can also be levied on the fish catch," he added. Fishing, the experts alleged, remained a sector where the traders and middlemen reap huge benefits, which are not ploughed back into the area. The unscientific hauling and unrestricted number of fishing trawlers are also leading to species loss, they said.

"To ensure that Digha is developed to its fullest potential, it is essential that the various government departments coordinate so that there is no overlapping of functions," Dr Mukhopadhyay said.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated November 14, 2006)
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