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Sundarban Tiger Reserve, West Bengal, India

Fishing struggles and conflict over the natural resource in one of the biggest mangrove forest and tiger reserves in India and the world.


The Sundarban Biosphere Reserve is a mangrove protected forest located in the West Bengal Delta, and declared as a Tiger Reserve in the 1973. The districts of North and South 24 Parganas within which lies the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve (SBR), is comprised of 102 islands, of which 54 are inhabited and the rest forested. The inhabited islands house a majority of forest-dependent people, especially concentrated in the lower island villages bordering the forests fringes. These people are integrally dependent on the forest resources for their livelihood, the most common forest-based activities being forest fishing (fishing in the narrowest river creeks and estuaries surrounded by forest areas), prawn seed collection, crab fishing, honey and wax collection.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Sundarban Tiger Reserve, West Bengal, India
State or province:West Bengal
Location of conflict:24 Parganas
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Establishment of reserves/national parks
Wetlands and coastal zone management
Aquaculture and fisheries
Specific commodities:Land
Tourism services
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The Sundarban Biosphere Reserve covers a vast area of 4,262 sq. km. in India alone, with a larger portion in Bangladesh. The area had been under Sundarban reserve forest established under Notification No. 15340-FOR, dt.09.08.1928. The Sundarban Reserve was declared as a Sundarban Tiger Reserve in 1973, a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1977, and as a Biosphere reserve in 1989.

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Type of populationRural
Affected Population:4.426.000
Start of the conflict:18/02/2007
Relevant government actors:West Bengal Forest Department; Minister of Environment and Forest;
International and Finance InstitutionsUNESCO - United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) from France
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) from Switzerland
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:All Indian Uion of Forest Working People (AIFWP),
Dakshinbanga Matsyajibi Forum (DFM).
International Collective in Support of Fisher workers,;
Direct Initiative for Social and Health Action (DISHA),
Sundarban Jana Sramajibi Manch (SJSM)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Social movements
Trade unions
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Food insecurity (crop damage)
Potential: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Health ImpactsVisible: Malnutrition
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Violations of human rights
Potential: Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Specific impacts on women, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Development of alternatives:The proposal brought forward by the local activists and leaders is the full implementation of the Forest Rights Act in the area, in order to recognize the rights to every fisherman to fish and access to the natural resources. However, under the FRA the forest rights are recognized under the power of the gram sabha at the village level, while here it should be organized under fisher worker's cluster. This is the reason why FRA does not completely respond to the need of this environment, and a new framework would need to be created to recognize the rights of people without damaging the area.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:People's rights continue to be denied and the voice of people not taken into consideration by the authorities. In this territory, the FRA has not been applied as the forest dwellers do not live within the forest area. Total unrecognition of the law and people's rights by the local and state government.
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act, 2006
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References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

DISHA. "Traditional Fishers in the Sundarban Tiger Reserve". A study on livelihood practice under protected area. Study supported by International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF)
[click to view]

Amrita Sen, Sarmistha Pattanaik. "Community-based Natural Resource Management in the Sundarbans".

Implications of Customary Rights, Law and Practices. Economic & Political Weekly (EPW) july 22, 2017 vol liI no 29
[click to view]

Priyanka Ghosh. "Conservation And Conflicts In The Sundarban Biosphere Reserve, India". Geographocal Review
[click to view]

Santanu Chacraverti. "THE SUNDARBANS FISHERS Coping in an Overly Stressed Mangrove Estuary", a Report by International Collective in Support of Fishworkers,
[click to view]

Priyanka Ghosh. Conservation And Conflicts In The Sundarban Biosphere Reserve, India.
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Fishermen and tigers struggle for survival in India's Sundarbans – in pictures
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Sundarbans: Fishing Struggle in time of Conservation
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12 fishermen held in Sundarbans for harassing tiger, prodding it with bamboo poles
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8 fishermen arrested in Sundarban
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12 fishermen held in Sundarbans for harassing tiger, prodding it with bamboo poles
[click to view]

Breaking the Chains of ‘Historical Injustice’ Dalits and Adivasis assert their rights over the Sundarban Forest
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Report: people’s hearing on Sundarban forest
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Breaking the Chains of ‘Historical Injustice’

Dalits and Adivasis assert their rights over the Sundarban Forest
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5 fishermen held for catching fish illegally
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Fishing Struggle in time of Conservation
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Other documents

Sundarban shore
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Sundarban Shore
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Boat Licence certificate (BLC) BLC with all the fines written by the forest department.
[click to view]

BLC copy A copy of the BLC with all the fees given by the FD.
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Eleonora Fanari, ICTA, [email protected]
Last update11/01/2019
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