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Save Bhabadeeghi, A Magnificent and Wisely-used Waterbody in West Bengal

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      Only about 6 months ago, not many people knew of Bhabadeeghi. And why would they? For, Bhabadeeghi is just a large pond in the Goghat division of Hooghly district in West Bengal, where poor people, mostly belonging to the scheduled castes, farmed fish to supplement their meagre incomes. Today, Bhabadeeghi has caught media attention — reporting how poor people are resisting destruction of the pond by the Eastern Railway. The Railway is building a track, which could easily have bypassed the pond and which was originally meant to bypass it.

      Why isn’t the track route now bypassing the pond? The answer is simple. The paddy fields through which the initially planned track was supposed to pass belong to the rich, relatively upper caste, and hence politically influential people in the village. Local influences and politics intervened and the Eastern Railway soon came to change their track plans and decided to take the track through Bhabadeeghi!

      This is another instance where endless sanctimonious pronouncements, declared policies, existing laws (in their letter and spirit) take a backseat and power politics has the last word. Who cares if the constitution, government, policies, institutional notifications and declarations repeatedly insist on protecting the rights of the backward and disadvantaged sections of society? Who cares if the poor and disadvantaged people of Bhabadeeghi area could not read the copy of the land acquisition notice that was written in English, and, moreover, was kept only at the Block Office? Who cares if the National Environment Policy, more than a decade old, repeatedly emphasized the huge ecological value of wetlands and waterbodies? Who cares if India is a signatory to the Ramsar convention, whose wise use policies are not confined to the internationally important wetland but extend to the smaller water bodies as well? Who cares if the State of West Bengal has a stringent Inland Fisheries Act dedicated to protecting waterbodies, a law honoured more in its violation than in compliance, as in this case? Who cares if the repeated verbal and written requests of the poor villagers to take the track through its originally planned route, bypassing the pond, went unheard by the District Administration and the Railway authorities? Who cares if local political vested interests and their hired goons continue to make the villagers’ life miserable, harassing them and threatening them with dire consequences if they do not stop resisting?

      But, it is your constitutional obligation to care! It is your obligation to value and work for preserving the ecological resources of the country. It is your obligation to see that the interests of the most disadvantaged sections of the society are protected.

      The people of Bhabadeeghi area welcome a railway track and are even prepared to sacrifice some land in the village and near the pond so that a public purpose is served. They only demand that this pond, whose water area even in the dry season is about 7 acres, is protected. We hope that you, in your wisdom, will do the needful to protect this valuable ecological and economic asset and stand beside the socially disadvantaged and economically challenged people at Bhabadeeghi.

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