The village Hossainpur, that voted in all earlier elections, has disappeared. Last October, the village with about a thousand voters was devoured by the Ganga displacing all. Earlier this week, standing close to the advancing river, the villagers identified points where their mud and bamboo thatched houses were located.
“Mine had three rooms, a courtyard and a garden,” said Rina Sarkar, a mother of three. The residents, mostly from Namasudra community, had moved twice earlier before settling in Hossainpur which was located at the point where the river splits in south Malda, with one branch moving to Bangladesh. As the village disappeared, the villagers moved further south to settle on the floodplains and named it “Srikanta Sarkarer Para”, after a local popular trader.
Many thousand villages in central Bengal have disappeared or gone to other States due to river erosion over the last four decades. “About two lakh Bengalis became residents of Jharkhand as the river moved towards Bangladesh, giving birth to new floodplains in Jharkhand. Bengal’s loss is Jharkhand’s gain,” said Kedar Mondal, a former CPI(M) activist. Octogenarian Mr. Mondal is considered the “river-man” of central Bengal, with in-depth knowledge to understand river erosion.
Since 2014 Lok Sabha poll, Mr. Mondal has documented 900 families “who have lost land and livelihood in at least six villages” on the border between Malda and Murshidabad. He blamed construction of the Farakka Barrage, nearly five decades ago, for excessive siltation causing large-scale flooding and erosion.
“Experts have reported on many occasions that the barrage allows the water to flow but the silt drops on the riverbed. Such siltation raises the height of the riverbed, washing away the villages year after year,” Mr. Mondal said. What bothers Mr. Mondal more is the lack of response from the government.
“It [river erosion] never features in party manifestos. None of the parties talks about erosion and no one indicates any permanent solution,” said Dipali Biswas, formerly a Hossainpur resident. Suranjan Mondal, a farmer, said that young men from erstwhile Hossainpur have now moved to Kerala.
“Didi’s [CM Mamata Banerjee] slogan is ‘Ma, Mati, Manush [mother, land, people]’ but she refuses to find a permanent solution to the manush on this mati,” said Govinda Roy, a farmer.
TMC candidate from Malda South Moazzem Hossain and BJP candidate Khagen Murmu said addressing the issue of river erosion will be their priority, if elected.