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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 1973. The districts of North and South 24 Parganas within which lies the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve (SBR), comprises 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 fringes of the forest. 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:Wetlands and coastal zone management
Establishment of reserves/national parks
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. The Sundarbans National Park, declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO, falls within the core area of the tiger reserve and is a protected zone where no human activity is permitted under the West Bengal state government policy.

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Project area:258,489
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
Health ImpactsVisible: Malnutrition
Potential: 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
Violent targeting of activists
Proposal and development of alternatives:The proposal brought forward by the local activists and leaders lays in the full implementation of the Forest Rights Act in the area, in order to get their fishing community rights legally recognized.
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 on the base that 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
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

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

[7] DISHA (2009) "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]

[8] Amrita Sen, Sarmistha Pattanaik (2017) "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]

[9] Priyanka Ghosh (2015) "Conservation And Conflicts In The Sundarban Biosphere Reserve, India". Geographocal Review
[click to view]

[10] Santanu Chacraverti (2014) "THE SUNDARBANS FISHERS: Coping in an Overly Stressed Mangrove Estuary", a Report by International Collective in Support of Fishworkers.
[click to view]

[11] Priyanka Ghosh (2015) 'Conservation And Conflicts In The Sundarban Biosphere Reserve, India.
[click to view]

[1] Fishermen and tigers struggle for survival in India's Sundarbans – in pictures
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[2] Sundarbans: Fishing Struggle in time of Conservation
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[3] 8 fishermen arrested in Sundarban
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[4] Breaking the Chains of ‘Historical Injustice’ Dalits and Adivasis assert their rights over the Sundarban Forest
[click to view]

[5] Report: people’s hearing on Sundarban forest
[click to view]

[6] 5 fishermen held for catching fish illegally
[click to view]

[12] Hindustan Times "India, Bangladesh to use Sundarbans-waterways carefully so as not to disturb movement of tigers: Report". Author: Joydeep Thakur. July 29, 2020.
[click to view]

Other comments:We are thankful for the information shared by Tapas Mandal and Pabitra Mandal of Sundarban Jana Sramajibi Manch.
Meta information
Contributor:Eleonora Fanari, ICTA, [email protected]
Last update11/01/2019
Conflict ID:3931
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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