Solar power, boats, ham radio to aid voting in the Sundarbans

Kolkata, April 19 (IANS) Amped up with ham radio broadcasts, solar lights and fleets of boats, launches and steamers, the world’s largest mangroves, the Sundarbans, is gearing up to vote in the West Bengal assembly polls notwithstanding connectivity issues stemming from the archipelago’s remoteness and wild terrain.

From ham radio operations to solar lights, officials are going the extra mile to ensure the electorate gets a chance to exercise their voting rights, a chance for them to elect representatives who will help them realise basic needs such as strengthening embankments in the globally famous region ravaged with natural disasters and perils of climate change.

Criss-crossed with tidal water systems, the Sundarbans delta covers approximately 10,000 square kilometres, most of which is in Bangladesh with the remainder in India. A Unesco World Heritage Site, it is home to around 42 lakh people and 76 endangered Royal Bengal Tigers.

The 102 islands of the archipelago come under 13 assembly constituencies administered by two separate Bengal districts: North 24-Parganas and South 24-Parganas. While North 24-Parganas goes to polls on April 25, its southern counterpart will see voting on April 30.

“There are two major areas of focus, connectivity and reducing impacts of the poll process on the environment,” an official in-charge of the elections in South 24-Parganas told IANS.

While green measures are being taken such to restrict the use of plastic or any other non-biodegradable material and use of jute, the official said launches and boats would be pressed into service to ferry poll personnel to remote villages such as Gosaba and Patharpratima.

Polls begin at 7 am and go on till 6pm and sometimes even beyond sundown.

“This year, we will provide solar lights so that officials can discharge their duties late in the evenings when there is no light source due to the absence of electricity in some areas,” the official said.

Meanwhile, the district administration in North 24-Parganas is in talks to get an extra train service between 10 pm to 3 am.

“We are in talks to get an extra train from Hasnabad to Barasat to Sealdah. The last train comes at 10 pm and the next train is at 3 am. We are trying to arrange another train between 10pm to 3 am for ease of access. We will also procure steamers and boats,” North 24-Parganas district magistrate Manmeet Nanda told IANS.

For the first time, provision of ham (amateur) radio services have been made in 24 shadow zones in the district, including in Sandeshkhali, Haroa, Hingalganj segments of the Sundarbans, where there is no mobile connectivity, said Ambarish Nag Biswas, Secretary, West Bengal Radio Club, an amateur club.

The mist-shrouded, swampy forests will witness interesting political fights between actor-turned-politician Debashree Roy, the Trinamool Congress legislator from Raidighi, and Communist Party of India-Marxist heavyweight Kanti Ganguly.A The Trinamool, Bengal’s ruling party, has promised the Sundarbans would become a separate district in 2016 which, they say, will boost development.

According to Tushar Kanjilal, widely recognised for his pioneering work as a teacher and a development leader in the Sundarbans, while rehabilitation after cyclone Aila in 2009 was certainly an election issue in the 2011 assembly polls, less than 25 percent of the work including mapping vulnerabilities and surveying lands has been done since then.

“One of the key demands from people is strengthening embankments. Since they were not built scientifically, they have failed to ward off rivers from eroding the landmass. Forming a district is not the need of the hour. What we need is a comprehensive development plan for the region taking into factors such as climate change and rising sea levels, economy and aspirations of the people ,” Kanjilal told IANS.

(Sahana Ghosh can be contacted at

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