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The Sleepless Sentinel

More than 50,000 hectors of land becomes Wasteland !
Severe soil erosion grabs southern West Bengal!

NINB, Purulia: Virtually severe soil erosion grabs major parts of southern West Bengal, which affects the districts mainlyPurulia, Bankura and West Mednapore some extent. Paradoxically, the government offers less attention into the issue while a soil laboratory at Midnapur under Silviculture (South) Division is fully functioning since long. A general prescription for application of soil amendments over different soil series is under preparation. Soil samples from areas are being analyzed at the lab to assess their salinity and other hydro-geological factors. Soil Samples sent by West Midnapore Division, Kharagpore Social Forestry Division, Bankura (South) Division, Panchet Soil Conservation Division and Durgapur Social Forestry Division to determine different parameters mainly evaluated were pH of the soil, organic C %, and available NPK.

Different anthropogenic activities in a watershed results into destabilization in the catchments of the Rivers, finally leading to accelerated erosion, which gradually change the productive land into barren wastelands. This land degradation poses severe challenge by filling up of the river beds and reducing the life of the reservoirs and also reduces agricultural productivity. The soil and water conservation measures are therefore, essential in good land management and watershed planning. The treatment measures are designed to prevent soil erosion, improve land capability, improve moisture regime and diversify biological endowment. The measures include both engineering methods like contour trench, check bunds, check dams, gully plugs and water harvesting structures, and vegetative methods like vegetative check dams, afforestation, pasture development, fodder development etc.

In West Bengal, soil conservation measures were taken up under several State Plans in First Five Year Plan period. The efforts continued in subsequent plans. But the real thrust was given in the 3rd Five Year Plan Period when the Government of India launched a Centrally Sponsored Scheme called the River Valley Project (RVP) in the entire country to restore eco-systems in the Catchments of rivers spreading over 17 States, including West Bengal, which included three rivers viz. Kangsabati, Teesta and Mayurakshi. In the 6th Plan, another Centrally Sponsored Scheme called Flood Prone Rivers (FPR) was initiated in 8 Catchments spreading over 7 States and 1 Union Territory. These 8 Catchments included 2 rivers in West Bengal viz. Rupnarayan and Ajoy. The urgency and the need for development of land and biological resources in the Catchments were felt in West Bengal from the stage of initiation. In the mid-sixties, five separate Forest Divisions were created to deal with the problems of soil erosion. Out of these 5 Divisions, three were in Purulia District and two in North Bengal hills. A separate Circle was set up in 1966 for intensive management of the watersheds situated on refractory sites. Later, in 1981 one Circle was created for North Bengal plains and another Circle was set up for South Bengal. The schemes are executed by Soil Conservation Divisions as well as by other Forest Divisions under which a very high or high priority watershed area falls. Watershed Project Report (WPR) is prepared for 4 or 5 years on priority basis of watersheds in line with the reports of all India Soil & Land use Survey (AISLUS). These WPRs are approved by the Central Government and works are carried out every year as per the approved Project with the assistance from Government of India.

A new feature of present watershed management and soil conservation works is the concept of involvement of local community in project formulation and participation in execution and maintenance of assets created. Besides these Central Schemes, Soil Conservation measures form an important component in different State Schemes like Protective Afforestation, Eco-Conservation of sensitive zones, Hill Area Development Schemes and Economic Plantation etc. Compensatory afforestation which are raised on vested land in exchange of forest land diverted for non-forestry purpose under Forest Conservation Act 1980, include an inbuilt elaborate Soil Conservation measure for catchment area treatment.

Unfortunately, the Soil Conservation (South) Circle of state forest department with it’s head quarter at Kolkata covers three Territorials and one functional Division, appears reluctant with this crucial issue of soil erosion at southern Bengal!“More than 50,000 hectors of land becomes Waste land in south Bengal alone” –a senior official of State forest department expressed his worries to Nature Indian!