DISASTROUS impact that unplanned industrialisation at Mongla and Rampal in Bagerhat keeps having on the habitat and food cycle of the Sunderbans, the world’s largest contiguous stretch of mangrove forest, appears to be gravely concerning. A study, carried out between July 2015 and June 2017 by a seven-member research team led by a Khulna University environmental science professor, has found, as New Age reported on Tuesday, poor presence of phytoplankton, zooplankton and benthos, three primary producers in the wildlife food chain, because of pollution in water, soil and air in and around the Sunderbans. The occurrence of mature plant and animal species is, as the study finds, dwindling significantly surrounding the industrial plots that the government allotted to 200 projects, including the Rampal coal-fired power plant. The study records 14 to 20 fish species in the industrialised areas and 27 to 33 species in areas where industrial effluents do not reach. In polluted areas, the study measured only 1,700-2,400 eggs and hatchlings of commercially valuable fish in per litre of water while there were 6,300 to 8,700 eggs and hatchlings of the same species in areas yet to be industrialised. A previous count of 2011 ranges between 6,800 and 9,600 in water, which has now been polluted.
The study, which says that the regeneration of Sundari trees, and population and habitat of intertidal zone birds have been affected by the development of industrial projects, has blamed poor, or no, enforcement of environmental laws to stop indiscriminate industrialisation of the surroundings of the ecologically critical area of the Sunderbans for the situation at hand. The study has found pug marks of only three Royal Bengal Tigers in the industrialised sites of the forests where a similar study before 2010 found the pug marks of 12 tigers, blaming the continuous change in the quality of air, water and soil caused by industrialisation. In the past few years, the government is reported to have allowed industries — the Rampal power plant, cement and liquefied petroleum gas factories and large infrastructure such as grain silos within 10–15 kilometres of the Sunderbans. The Khulna University teacher who led the study team has blamed the shipment of raw and construction materials for the ongoing industrial projects through the Sunderban river routes for the intensification of the environmental pollution. He sounded a warning that the total ecological system of the Sunderbans would be at stake if the authorities failed to check indiscriminate industrialisation around the forest.
When the environment department tries to wash its hand of the matter admitting that political influence on indiscriminate industrialisation was a big challenge and waits for directives from the government, the government, under the circumstances, must rethink its policy for the development in and around the areas of the Sunderbans. The government must be stringent in enforcement of environmental laws and stave off the political influence that fosters indiscriminate industrialisation at the cost of the ecology of the mangrove forest, its habitat and wildlife.
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