Indian Sundarban Delta’s Gosaba Community Development Block in the time of lockdown

By Sumana Banerjee + Tuhin GhoshAffiliation: School of Oceanographic Studies, Jadavpur University, India

The lockdown in India owing to COVID-19 began on March 24, 2020 with March 22, 2020 declared as a curfew day. The State of West Bengal decided to shut schools and educational institutions from March 16, 2020 and has been under subsequent lockdown since March 24, 2020 which now will continue till May 3, 2020.

 

Needless to say, the lockdown has affected all areas of the country and the state. The more privileged people like us are all working from home and connecting with colleagues from across the world over  Zoom meetings and strategizing work plans to pay attention to work that can be done with our computers at home.

 

A critical piece of the puzzle amidst this planning for us in Living Deltas has been the opportunity to conduct fieldwork, which is now uncertain, especially in India. We respect these impediments to conducting fieldwork but do not let it come between the trust and relationship which we have built with the delta communities over the years. The relationship goes beyond the terms of research and we worry about each other like we do for our friends and families. With developed communication facilities, we are always in touch with them and in this time of lockdown, we learnt from them how they are faring.

 

Our friends from the delta communities were in no way interviewed for research, probing and prompting with questions, because we did not want to encroach upon their time for our personal benefits at this time of crisis. This blog post is a result of the regular conversations with them through which they gave us a picture of the life in the delta at this time, followed by our conclusions, albeit after taking their permission if we can share these through our writing. This is also a humble attempt to take our Living Deltas Hub members to the delta to show them how particularly the Gosaba Community Development Block of the Indian Sundarban Delta (Figure 1) is faring in this time of lockdown, highlighting on the changes in their daily life and changes in their livelihoods.

 

Figure 1 Indian Sundarban Delta showing the 19 Community Development Blocks

Changes in the daily life of the delta

Transport and Communication - The Gosaba Community Development (CD) Block comprises of a cluster of islands and the communication between the islands and to the mainland is mostly facilitated by ferries (Figure 2) and three-wheelers. These have fixed routes and are the only public transport options. With the aim of restricting movement, the lockdown has stopped the operation of these transports. This has naturally affected the earning of these transport operators. As for telecommunications, most delta-dwellers who use mobile phones use prepaid connections which need to be recharged with talktime and internet packages. They are used to visiting shops to get these recharges done and are not familiar of recharging online. With the recharge shops closed now, many are finding it difficult to recharge their phones and keeping the lines of communication alive.

 

Figure 2 Ferry as the most common mode of public transport in Gosaba

Markets - People are permitted to go the markets maintaining the norm of social distancing. Markets are permitted to remain ope for 2-3 hours in the morning where people are queuing up a few metres away from each other and buying vegetables, fish, chicken, eggs, grocery and medicines. The big playground in between the State Bank of India branch at Gosaba and Sir Hamilton’s bungalow is being used to operate as a market where sellers are sitting far away from each other and buyers are standing in chalk-circled areas in front of the sellers. Most villagers have a patch of land within their homestead land where they grow vegetables and they also have a pond where they grow fish, both for their personal consumption. In addition to this, they also have stock of rice grains from their own cultivable lands and most people are eligible to rice through the government’s Public Distribution System. Unlike our plight in urban areas where we are compelled to buy rice, vegetables and fish from the market, many villagers in the delta are self-sustaining.  However, with the lockdown being extended, it is a matter of concern for them as to how long this self-sustenance can go on. Grocery stores are permitted to stay open for a stipulated period of time when they are doing brisk business. Many people are also hoarding out of fear for running out of supply of essentials in the future since remoteness of the islands may pose a problem for transportation of essentials from outside the CD Block.

 

Drinking Water - Another aspect of the daily life consists of fetching drinking water. With the summer setting in and all the members of the household staying at home all day, the consumption of water has gone up now, resulting in more number of trips to fetch water from the handpumps, tanks, and standpost water supplies. This might impact the availability of drinking water in the near future in some areas of the delta. Also if because of excess pressure on the pumping station, if the equipment malfunctions, mechanics from the cities cannot travel to fix them.

 

Cooking fuel – Many houses use LPG gas cylinders for cooking. The lockdown has affected the earning of most individuals thereby making it difficult for them to buy new gas cylinders. Many households are now using the timber which they obtained from the trees of their homestead land which got uprooted way back in November 2019 due to the Cyclone Bulbul. If the lockdown continues for a longer period of time, we anticipate that felling of trees in the localities might take place.

 

Education - Schools are closed in the delta and unlike in urban areas where most schools are conducting online classes, the students in the delta do not have such alternatives. Recently, a Bengali news channel has started hosting classes for senior classes. While this is a commendable initiative that more people have access to television than equipment needed to support online classes, the concern remains that not all households in the delta have televisions and those who have televisions may not be able to continue to pay subscription for the news channel in this difficult time when earning is being impacted upon.

 

Health facilities - Medical emergencies in the Gosaba CD Block are attended to at Gosaba or at Canning, the nearest town. In this time of lockdown, the women workers of ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist is a community health worker instituted by the government of India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as a part of the National Rural Health Mission) are actively visiting villages. On a normal day, transporting a patient to Gosaba from the remote islands is an uphill task comprising of arranging boats to reach the mainland, after which ambulances can be arranged. Under this state of lockdown, arranging transport will become even more difficult and this is a cause of worry for the villagers.

 

Role of local governance and administration – The Panchayats, which are the elected governing bodies at the village level in India, have been active in spreading the safety and awareness messages over microphone doing rounds in the villages. Additionally, they have taken the initiative to monitor the migrant workers coming into the villages, suggesting them to stay in home quarantine for the stipulated 14 days. The police have been stationed at certain points monitoring the people in markets, enforcing the rules of lockdown and social distancing.

 

Changes in Livelihoods – The most prominent livelihoods in the Gosaba CD Block are agriculture, riverine fishing, honey collection, and crab collection. Most households rear cows, goats, ducks, and chicken. A significant portion of the population migrates outside the delta for job opportunities. Apart from this, bee-keeping and fish breeding are practiced by some and many of the young men are involved in tourism.

 

Agriculture – So far the lockdown has not affected any agricultural activities but the cultivators face anticipatory anxiety about the disruption in the supply chain which might affect their transportation of the produce at a later date.

 

Riverine Fishing – The lockdown has affected the transportation network and disrupted the supply chain, thereby impacting upon the demand of fishes in the markets outside the CD Block. With no place to sell and no storage facilities available for fishermen in the area, riverine fishing is being practised less now (Figure 3). Also this livelihood is dependent on the tidal conditions which are not always coinciding with the stipulated local market timings where they can sell their catch locally, thereby dampening the impetus to go fishing. The local market is also not a profitable place to sell the catch since the people visiting these local markets have ponds with fishes within their homestead lands, as mentioned earlier, and they seldom buy fishes from these markets.

Figure 3 Riverine fishing practised by the delta dwellers

Honey Collection – Gosaba being a forest fringe CD Block, sees a number of its residents engage in seasonal honey collection which is facilitated by the Forest Department through distribution of permits. The permits to enter the buffer area of the forest for honey collection are issued around beginning to mid of April. This is a one timely earning opportunity for the honey collectors as venturing into the forest during other times is not beneficial as this livelihood is intricately linked with the flowering season and also if they are caught in the forest without a permit, they can face legal charges. The lockdown this year has meant that they have not been allowed to enter the forest yet, and if they are not allowed to do so anytime in the near future, this will have severe impacts upon their yearly income from this livelihood.

 

Crab Collection – This used to be a very lucrative livelihood till before the COVID-19 global crisis. Crabs from the delta are exported worldwide with a very prominent market in China. With a curb on the export, this livelihood has taken a hit from the end of January itself. The crabs which were fit for export used to fetch  INR 800 per kilogram  for the crab collectors and now the price has gone down to INR 100-150 per kilogram. Crab farm owners in the delta are feeding the crabs with nowhere to sell. Individual collectors, who used to sell their catch to the middlemen, also have nowhere to sell their catch since the middlemen who came from outside the delta cannot come now and the supply chain is non-operative. This has compelled some of them to locally sell the crabs at very low prices and the resulting action has been to not enter the forest for crab collection.

 

Livestock and Poultry – Cows and goats which are reared in most households are a source of milk which is helpful in these times when nutritious food supply for all is becoming a cause of worry. Chicken and duck eggs are also beneficial being rich sources of protein. However, since most households have these, there is little to no local demand for these products; and there is no way to sell these outside. This means that the people who are rearing the livestock and poultry are not getting any profit out of the activity. Added to these, is the cost of feeding the animals and the dwindling medicine and feed supply especially for the chicken. Chicken can be sold for the meat but certain rumours were doing the rounds in the CD Block and we learnt of this during our visit in early March. The residents had informed us back then “Chicken has Corona Virus and we will get it if we eat it. Nobody is buying chicken and we have to kill them.” Such rumours have also affected the poultry business where the poultry owners have suffered tremendous losses. However, gradually the rumours are dying down.

 

Migrants – A significant portion of the deltaic population migrate mostly to other States of India for economic opportunities. They are mostly male and in the age group of 21 – 40. We learnt of instances where groups of men who were supposed to go to other States to work, could not do so. This will affect their earning and subsequent expenses as most of the remittances which they send are used on family’s consumption. We also learnt that luckily some people could make their way back to the delta right before the lockdown was announced. The Panchayats have been active to track them down and have enforced the rules of self-isolation for 14 days and monitored the situation. While this is a positive story of migrants reunited with their families, there are many other who are stranded in different parts of the country under precarious conditions with no way to get back to their homes.

 

Beekeeping – This is practised by few people who travel across districts owing to the flowering seasons. Many delta-dwellers and even people from elsewhere come and install the bee-boxes in the forest fringe villages. These boxes are placed in the yard within people’s homestead land against which the beekeepers pay the landowner a rent and also for their meals which are provided by the landowner. We heard of groups who installed the boxes in Satjelia Island with the plan of coming back soon but the lockdown has restricted that. The bees in the installed boxes have to be continuously fed with sugar. Since the groups are not able to return, the bees are gradually dying. The beekeepers are facing losses and even the residents who are used to renting out their land are also missing out on their usual source of income. Two beekeeping teams who came to Satjelia Island and got stuck owing to the lockdown are however getting good amount of honey, possibly due to lack of competition from other bee boxes.

 

Fish farming – Many delta dwellers also practice fish farming in tanks or chambers. The fry are usually bought from outside and there is no prominent hatchery in the area. The lockdown has restricted movement of the seedlings from other States and the beginning of the summers is the ideal time for releasing them in the ponds when they need heat to survive and start growing in the monsoons. This year all these processes could not be carried out, thereby affecting the fish farmers and this will have impacts on fish availability and the consequent fish prices in the future.

 

Tourism – Most of the tourism in Indian Sundarban happens in this Gosaba CD Block. Although March onwards marks the lean period in tourism in the delta owing to onset of summer and the subsequent monsoon, the occasional tours have also been scrapped now. It is mostly the men who are locally involved as boat crew, hotel staff in this sector. Tour operators are not hopeful to get business in the coming few months, which makes it difficult for the people involved in this sector to be regularly paid. There is also the apprehension if at all tourism will be revived by the end of the year owing to people’s general fear of travelling.

 

We cannot overlook the connections that although different in lifestyles, socio-economic backgrounds, we are all tied together in this common fate. What is a cause of worry for the delta-dwellers today will become an issue for us city-dwellers tomorrow. The food supply chain which is being crippled now is affecting them today because they cannot sell their produce and it will affect us city dwellers tomorrow when we scramble to buy food or pay high exorbitant prices for it. To conclude we will only hope for a better tomorrow for all of us by following the rules of social distancing and maintaining hygiene today. Stay safe everyone!

 

 

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Indian Sundarban Delta’s Gosaba Community Development Block in the time of lockdown

By Sumana Banerjee + Tuhin GhoshAffiliation: School of Oceanographic Studies, Jadavpur University, India

The lockdown in India owing to COVID-19 began on March 24, 2020 with March 22, 2020 declared as a curfew day. The State of West Bengal decided to shut schools and educational institutions from March 16, 2020 and has been under subsequent lockdown since March 24, 2020 which now will continue till May 3, 2020.

 

Needless to say, the lockdown has affected all areas of the country and the state. The more privileged people like us are all working from home and connecting with colleagues from across the world over  Zoom meetings and strategizing work plans to pay attention to work that can be done with our computers at home.

 

A critical piece of the puzzle amidst this planning for us in Living Deltas has been the opportunity to conduct fieldwork, which is now uncertain, especially in India. We respect these impediments to conducting fieldwork but do not let it come between the trust and relationship which we have built with the delta communities over the years. The relationship goes beyond the terms of research and we worry about each other like we do for our friends and families. With developed communication facilities, we are always in touch with them and in this time of lockdown, we learnt from them how they are faring.

 

Our friends from the delta communities were in no way interviewed for research, probing and prompting with questions, because we did not want to encroach upon their time for our personal benefits at this time of crisis. This blog post is a result of the regular conversations with them through which they gave us a picture of the life in the delta at this time, followed by our conclusions, albeit after taking their permission if we can share these through our writing. This is also a humble attempt to take our Living Deltas Hub members to the delta to show them how particularly the Gosaba Community Development Block of the Indian Sundarban Delta (Figure 1) is faring in this time of lockdown, highlighting on the changes in their daily life and changes in their livelihoods.

 

Figure 1 Indian Sundarban Delta showing the 19 Community Development Blocks

Changes in the daily life of the delta

Transport and Communication - The Gosaba Community Development (CD) Block comprises of a cluster of islands and the communication between the islands and to the mainland is mostly facilitated by ferries (Figure 2) and three-wheelers. These have fixed routes and are the only public transport options. With the aim of restricting movement, the lockdown has stopped the operation of these transports. This has naturally affected the earning of these transport operators. As for telecommunications, most delta-dwellers who use mobile phones use prepaid connections which need to be recharged with talktime and internet packages. They are used to visiting shops to get these recharges done and are not familiar of recharging online. With the recharge shops closed now, many are finding it difficult to recharge their phones and keeping the lines of communication alive.

 

 

Figure 2 Ferry as the most common mode of public transport in Gosaba

Markets - People are permitted to go the markets maintaining the norm of social distancing. Markets are permitted to remain ope for 2-3 hours in the morning where people are queuing up a few metres away from each other and buying vegetables, fish, chicken, eggs, grocery and medicines. The big playground in between the State Bank of India branch at Gosaba and Sir Hamilton’s bungalow is being used to operate as a market where sellers are sitting far away from each other and buyers are standing in chalk-circled areas in front of the sellers. Most villagers have a patch of land within their homestead land where they grow vegetables and they also have a pond where they grow fish, both for their personal consumption. In addition to this, they also have stock of rice grains from their own cultivable lands and most people are eligible to rice through the government’s Public Distribution System. Unlike our plight in urban areas where we are compelled to buy rice, vegetables and fish from the market, many villagers in the delta are self-sustaining.  However, with the lockdown being extended, it is a matter of concern for them as to how long this self-sustenance can go on. Grocery stores are permitted to stay open for a stipulated period of time when they are doing brisk business. Many people are also hoarding out of fear for running out of supply of essentials in the future since remoteness of the islands may pose a problem for transportation of essentials from outside the CD Block.

 

Drinking Water - Another aspect of the daily life consists of fetching drinking water. With the summer setting in and all the members of the household staying at home all day, the consumption of water has gone up now, resulting in more number of trips to fetch water from the handpumps, tanks, and standpost water supplies. This might impact the availability of drinking water in the near future in some areas of the delta. Also if because of excess pressure on the pumping station, if the equipment malfunctions, mechanics from the cities cannot travel to fix them.

 

Cooking fuel – Many houses use LPG gas cylinders for cooking. The lockdown has affected the earning of most individuals thereby making it difficult for them to buy new gas cylinders. Many households are now using the timber which they obtained from the trees of their homestead land which got uprooted way back in November 2019 due to the Cyclone Bulbul. If the lockdown continues for a longer period of time, we anticipate that felling of trees in the localities might take place.

 

Education - Schools are closed in the delta and unlike in urban areas where most schools are conducting online classes, the students in the delta do not have such alternatives. Recently, a Bengali news channel has started hosting classes for senior classes. While this is a commendable initiative that more people have access to television than equipment needed to support online classes, the concern remains that not all households in the delta have televisions and those who have televisions may not be able to continue to pay subscription for the news channel in this difficult time when earning is being impacted upon.

 

Health facilities - Medical emergencies in the Gosaba CD Block are attended to at Gosaba or at Canning, the nearest town. In this time of lockdown, the women workers of ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist is a community health worker instituted by the government of India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as a part of the National Rural Health Mission) are actively visiting villages. On a normal day, transporting a patient to Gosaba from the remote islands is an uphill task comprising of arranging boats to reach the mainland, after which ambulances can be arranged. Under this state of lockdown, arranging transport will become even more difficult and this is a cause of worry for the villagers.

 

Role of local governance and administration – The Panchayats, which are the elected governing bodies at the village level in India, have been active in spreading the safety and awareness messages over microphone doing rounds in the villages. Additionally, they have taken the initiative to monitor the migrant workers coming into the villages, suggesting them to stay in home quarantine for the stipulated 14 days. The police have been stationed at certain points monitoring the people in markets, enforcing the rules of lockdown and social distancing.

 

Changes in Livelihoods – The most prominent livelihoods in the Gosaba CD Block are agriculture, riverine fishing, honey collection, and crab collection. Most households rear cows, goats, ducks, and chicken. A significant portion of the population migrates outside the delta for job opportunities. Apart from this, bee-keeping and fish breeding are practiced by some and many of the young men are involved in tourism.

 

Agriculture – So far the lockdown has not affected any agricultural activities but the cultivators face anticipatory anxiety about the disruption in the supply chain which might affect their transportation of the produce at a later date.

 

Riverine Fishing – The lockdown has affected the transportation network and disrupted the supply chain, thereby impacting upon the demand of fishes in the markets outside the CD Block. With no place to sell and no storage facilities available for fishermen in the area, riverine fishing is being practised less now (Figure 3). Also this livelihood is dependent on the tidal conditions which are not always coinciding with the stipulated local market timings where they can sell their catch locally, thereby dampening the impetus to go fishing. The local market is also not a profitable place to sell the catch since the people visiting these local markets have ponds with fishes within their homestead lands, as mentioned earlier, and they seldom buy fishes from these markets.

Figure 3 Riverine fishing practised by the delta dwellers

Honey Collection – Gosaba being a forest fringe CD Block, sees a number of its residents engage in seasonal honey collection which is facilitated by the Forest Department through distribution of permits. The permits to enter the buffer area of the forest for honey collection are issued around beginning to mid of April. This is a one timely earning opportunity for the honey collectors as venturing into the forest during other times is not beneficial as this livelihood is intricately linked with the flowering season and also if they are caught in the forest without a permit, they can face legal charges. The lockdown this year has meant that they have not been allowed to enter the forest yet, and if they are not allowed to do so anytime in the near future, this will have severe impacts upon their yearly income from this livelihood.

 

Crab Collection – This used to be a very lucrative livelihood till before the COVID-19 global crisis. Crabs from the delta are exported worldwide with a very prominent market in China. With a curb on the export, this livelihood has taken a hit from the end of January itself. The crabs which were fit for export used to fetch  INR 800 per kilogram  for the crab collectors and now the price has gone down to INR 100-150 per kilogram. Crab farm owners in the delta are feeding the crabs with nowhere to sell. Individual collectors, who used to sell their catch to the middlemen, also have nowhere to sell their catch since the middlemen who came from outside the delta cannot come now and the supply chain is non-operative. This has compelled some of them to locally sell the crabs at very low prices and the resulting action has been to not enter the forest for crab collection.

 

Livestock and Poultry – Cows and goats which are reared in most households are a source of milk which is helpful in these times when nutritious food supply for all is becoming a cause of worry. Chicken and duck eggs are also beneficial being rich sources of protein. However, since most households have these, there is little to no local demand for these products; and there is no way to sell these outside. This means that the people who are rearing the livestock and poultry are not getting any profit out of the activity. Added to these, is the cost of feeding the animals and the dwindling medicine and feed supply especially for the chicken. Chicken can be sold for the meat but certain rumours were doing the rounds in the CD Block and we learnt of this during our visit in early March. The residents had informed us back then “Chicken has Corona Virus and we will get it if we eat it. Nobody is buying chicken and we have to kill them.” Such rumours have also affected the poultry business where the poultry owners have suffered tremendous losses. However, gradually the rumours are dying down.

 

Migrants – A significant portion of the deltaic population migrate mostly to other States of India for economic opportunities. They are mostly male and in the age group of 21 – 40. We learnt of instances where groups of men who were supposed to go to other States to work, could not do so. This will affect their earning and subsequent expenses as most of the remittances which they send are used on family’s consumption. We also learnt that luckily some people could make their way back to the delta right before the lockdown was announced. The Panchayats have been active to track them down and have enforced the rules of self-isolation for 14 days and monitored the situation. While this is a positive story of migrants reunited with their families, there are many other who are stranded in different parts of the country under precarious conditions with no way to get back to their homes.

 

Beekeeping – This is practised by few people who travel across districts owing to the flowering seasons. Many delta-dwellers and even people from elsewhere come and install the bee-boxes in the forest fringe villages. These boxes are placed in the yard within people’s homestead land against which the beekeepers pay the landowner a rent and also for their meals which are provided by the landowner. We heard of groups who installed the boxes in Satjelia Island with the plan of coming back soon but the lockdown has restricted that. The bees in the installed boxes have to be continuously fed with sugar. Since the groups are not able to return, the bees are gradually dying. The beekeepers are facing losses and even the residents who are used to renting out their land are also missing out on their usual source of income. Two beekeeping teams who came to Satjelia Island and got stuck owing to the lockdown are however getting good amount of honey, possibly due to lack of competition from other bee boxes.

 

Fish farming – Many delta dwellers also practice fish farming in tanks or chambers. The fry are usually bought from outside and there is no prominent hatchery in the area. The lockdown has restricted movement of the seedlings from other States and the beginning of the summers is the ideal time for releasing them in the ponds when they need heat to survive and start growing in the monsoons. This year all these processes could not be carried out, thereby affecting the fish farmers and this will have impacts on fish availability and the consequent fish prices in the future.

 

Tourism – Most of the tourism in Indian Sundarban happens in this Gosaba CD Block. Although March onwards marks the lean period in tourism in the delta owing to onset of summer and the subsequent monsoon, the occasional tours have also been scrapped now. It is mostly the men who are locally involved as boat crew, hotel staff in this sector. Tour operators are not hopeful to get business in the coming few months, which makes it difficult for the people involved in this sector to be regularly paid. There is also the apprehension if at all tourism will be revived by the end of the year owing to people’s general fear of travelling.

 

We cannot overlook the connections that although different in lifestyles, socio-economic backgrounds, we are all tied together in this common fate. What is a cause of worry for the delta-dwellers today will become an issue for us city-dwellers tomorrow. The food supply chain which is being crippled now is affecting them today because they cannot sell their produce and it will affect us city dwellers tomorrow when we scramble to buy food or pay high exorbitant prices for it. To conclude we will only hope for a better tomorrow for all of us by following the rules of social distancing and maintaining hygiene today. Stay safe everyone!

 

 

Indian Sundarban Delta’s Gosaba Community Development Block in the time of lockdown

By Sumana Banerjee + Tuhin GhoshAffiliation: School of Oceanographic Studies, Jadavpur University, India

Changes in the daily life of the delta

Transport and Communication - The Gosaba Community Development (CD) Block comprises of a cluster of islands and the communication between the islands and to the mainland is mostly facilitated by ferries (Figure 2) and three-wheelers. These have fixed routes and are the only public transport options. With the aim of restricting movement, the lockdown has stopped the operation of these transports. This has naturally affected the earning of these transport operators. As for telecommunications, most delta-dwellers who use mobile phones use prepaid connections which need to be recharged with talktime and internet packages. They are used to visiting shops to get these recharges done and are not familiar of recharging online. With the recharge shops closed now, many are finding it difficult to recharge their phones and keeping the lines of communication alive.

 

 

Figure 1 Indian Sundarban Delta showing the 19 Community Development Blocks

The lockdown in India owing to COVID-19 began on March 24, 2020 with March 22, 2020 declared as a curfew day. The State of West Bengal decided to shut schools and educational institutions from March 16, 2020 and has been under subsequent lockdown since March 24, 2020 which now will continue till May 3, 2020.

 

Needless to say, the lockdown has affected all areas of the country and the state. The more privileged people like us are all working from home and connecting with colleagues from across the world over  Zoom meetings and strategizing work plans to pay attention to work that can be done with our computers at home.

 

A critical piece of the puzzle amidst this planning for us in Living Deltas has been the opportunity to conduct fieldwork, which is now uncertain, especially in India. We respect these impediments to conducting fieldwork but do not let it come between the trust and relationship which we have built with the delta communities over the years. The relationship goes beyond the terms of research and we worry about each other like we do for our friends and families. With developed communication facilities, we are always in touch with them and in this time of lockdown, we learnt from them how they are faring.

 

Our friends from the delta communities were in no way interviewed for research, probing and prompting with questions, because we did not want to encroach upon their time for our personal benefits at this time of crisis. This blog post is a result of the regular conversations with them through which they gave us a picture of the life in the delta at this time, followed by our conclusions, albeit after taking their permission if we can share these through our writing. This is also a humble attempt to take our Living Deltas Hub members to the delta to show them how particularly the Gosaba Community Development Block of the Indian Sundarban Delta (Figure 1) is faring in this time of lockdown, highlighting on the changes in their daily life and changes in their livelihoods.

 

Figure 2 Ferry as the most common mode of public transport in Gosaba

Markets - People are permitted to go the markets maintaining the norm of social distancing. Markets are permitted to remain ope for 2-3 hours in the morning where people are queuing up a few metres away from each other and buying vegetables, fish, chicken, eggs, grocery and medicines. The big playground in between the State Bank of India branch at Gosaba and Sir Hamilton’s bungalow is being used to operate as a market where sellers are sitting far away from each other and buyers are standing in chalk-circled areas in front of the sellers. Most villagers have a patch of land within their homestead land where they grow vegetables and they also have a pond where they grow fish, both for their personal consumption. In addition to this, they also have stock of rice grains from their own cultivable lands and most people are eligible to rice through the government’s Public Distribution System. Unlike our plight in urban areas where we are compelled to buy rice, vegetables and fish from the market, many villagers in the delta are self-sustaining.  However, with the lockdown being extended, it is a matter of concern for them as to how long this self-sustenance can go on. Grocery stores are permitted to stay open for a stipulated period of time when they are doing brisk business. Many people are also hoarding out of fear for running out of supply of essentials in the future since remoteness of the islands may pose a problem for transportation of essentials from outside the CD Block.

 

Drinking Water - Another aspect of the daily life consists of fetching drinking water. With the summer setting in and all the members of the household staying at home all day, the consumption of water has gone up now, resulting in more number of trips to fetch water from the handpumps, tanks, and standpost water supplies. This might impact the availability of drinking water in the near future in some areas of the delta. Also if because of excess pressure on the pumping station, if the equipment malfunctions, mechanics from the cities cannot travel to fix them.

 

Cooking fuel – Many houses use LPG gas cylinders for cooking. The lockdown has affected the earning of most individuals thereby making it difficult for them to buy new gas cylinders. Many households are now using the timber which they obtained from the trees of their homestead land which got uprooted way back in November 2019 due to the Cyclone Bulbul. If the lockdown continues for a longer period of time, we anticipate that felling of trees in the localities might take place.

 

Education - Schools are closed in the delta and unlike in urban areas where most schools are conducting online classes, the students in the delta do not have such alternatives. Recently, a Bengali news channel has started hosting classes for senior classes. While this is a commendable initiative that more people have access to television than equipment needed to support online classes, the concern remains that not all households in the delta have televisions and those who have televisions may not be able to continue to pay subscription for the news channel in this difficult time when earning is being impacted upon.

 

Health facilities - Medical emergencies in the Gosaba CD Block are attended to at Gosaba or at Canning, the nearest town. In this time of lockdown, the women workers of ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist is a community health worker instituted by the government of India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as a part of the National Rural Health Mission) are actively visiting villages. On a normal day, transporting a patient to Gosaba from the remote islands is an uphill task comprising of arranging boats to reach the mainland, after which ambulances can be arranged. Under this state of lockdown, arranging transport will become even more difficult and this is a cause of worry for the villagers.

 

Role of local governance and administration – The Panchayats, which are the elected governing bodies at the village level in India, have been active in spreading the safety and awareness messages over microphone doing rounds in the villages. Additionally, they have taken the initiative to monitor the migrant workers coming into the villages, suggesting them to stay in home quarantine for the stipulated 14 days. The police have been stationed at certain points monitoring the people in markets, enforcing the rules of lockdown and social distancing.

 

Changes in Livelihoods – The most prominent livelihoods in the Gosaba CD Block are agriculture, riverine fishing, honey collection, and crab collection. Most households rear cows, goats, ducks, and chicken. A significant portion of the population migrates outside the delta for job opportunities. Apart from this, bee-keeping and fish breeding are practiced by some and many of the young men are involved in tourism.

 

Agriculture – So far the lockdown has not affected any agricultural activities but the cultivators face anticipatory anxiety about the disruption in the supply chain which might affect their transportation of the produce at a later date.

 

Riverine Fishing – The lockdown has affected the transportation network and disrupted the supply chain, thereby impacting upon the demand of fishes in the markets outside the CD Block. With no place to sell and no storage facilities available for fishermen in the area, riverine fishing is being practised less now (Figure 3). Also this livelihood is dependent on the tidal conditions which are not always coinciding with the stipulated local market timings where they can sell their catch locally, thereby dampening the impetus to go fishing. The local market is also not a profitable place to sell the catch since the people visiting these local markets have ponds with fishes within their homestead lands, as mentioned earlier, and they seldom buy fishes from these markets.

Figure 3 Riverine fishing practised by the delta dwellers

Honey Collection – Gosaba being a forest fringe CD Block, sees a number of its residents engage in seasonal honey collection which is facilitated by the Forest Department through distribution of permits. The permits to enter the buffer area of the forest for honey collection are issued around beginning to mid of April. This is a one timely earning opportunity for the honey collectors as venturing into the forest during other times is not beneficial as this livelihood is intricately linked with the flowering season and also if they are caught in the forest without a permit, they can face legal charges. The lockdown this year has meant that they have not been allowed to enter the forest yet, and if they are not allowed to do so anytime in the near future, this will have severe impacts upon their yearly income from this livelihood.

 

Crab Collection – This used to be a very lucrative livelihood till before the COVID-19 global crisis. Crabs from the delta are exported worldwide with a very prominent market in China. With a curb on the export, this livelihood has taken a hit from the end of January itself. The crabs which were fit for export used to fetch  INR 800 per kilogram  for the crab collectors and now the price has gone down to INR 100-150 per kilogram. Crab farm owners in the delta are feeding the crabs with nowhere to sell. Individual collectors, who used to sell their catch to the middlemen, also have nowhere to sell their catch since the middlemen who came from outside the delta cannot come now and the supply chain is non-operative. This has compelled some of them to locally sell the crabs at very low prices and the resulting action has been to not enter the forest for crab collection.

 

Livestock and Poultry – Cows and goats which are reared in most households are a source of milk which is helpful in these times when nutritious food supply for all is becoming a cause of worry. Chicken and duck eggs are also beneficial being rich sources of protein. However, since most households have these, there is little to no local demand for these products; and there is no way to sell these outside. This means that the people who are rearing the livestock and poultry are not getting any profit out of the activity. Added to these, is the cost of feeding the animals and the dwindling medicine and feed supply especially for the chicken. Chicken can be sold for the meat but certain rumours were doing the rounds in the CD Block and we learnt of this during our visit in early March. The residents had informed us back then “Chicken has Corona Virus and we will get it if we eat it. Nobody is buying chicken and we have to kill them.” Such rumours have also affected the poultry business where the poultry owners have suffered tremendous losses. However, gradually the rumours are dying down.

 

Migrants – A significant portion of the deltaic population migrate mostly to other States of India for economic opportunities. They are mostly male and in the age group of 21 – 40. We learnt of instances where groups of men who were supposed to go to other States to work, could not do so. This will affect their earning and subsequent expenses as most of the remittances which they send are used on family’s consumption. We also learnt that luckily some people could make their way back to the delta right before the lockdown was announced. The Panchayats have been active to track them down and have enforced the rules of self-isolation for 14 days and monitored the situation. While this is a positive story of migrants reunited with their families, there are many other who are stranded in different parts of the country under precarious conditions with no way to get back to their homes.

 

Beekeeping – This is practised by few people who travel across districts owing to the flowering seasons. Many delta-dwellers and even people from elsewhere come and install the bee-boxes in the forest fringe villages. These boxes are placed in the yard within people’s homestead land against which the beekeepers pay the landowner a rent and also for their meals which are provided by the landowner. We heard of groups who installed the boxes in Satjelia Island with the plan of coming back soon but the lockdown has restricted that. The bees in the installed boxes have to be continuously fed with sugar. Since the groups are not able to return, the bees are gradually dying. The beekeepers are facing losses and even the residents who are used to renting out their land are also missing out on their usual source of income. Two beekeeping teams who came to Satjelia Island and got stuck owing to the lockdown are however getting good amount of honey, possibly due to lack of competition from other bee boxes.

 

Fish farming – Many delta dwellers also practice fish farming in tanks or chambers. The fry are usually bought from outside and there is no prominent hatchery in the area. The lockdown has restricted movement of the seedlings from other States and the beginning of the summers is the ideal time for releasing them in the ponds when they need heat to survive and start growing in the monsoons. This year all these processes could not be carried out, thereby affecting the fish farmers and this will have impacts on fish availability and the consequent fish prices in the future.

 

Tourism – Most of the tourism in Indian Sundarban happens in this Gosaba CD Block. Although March onwards marks the lean period in tourism in the delta owing to onset of summer and the subsequent monsoon, the occasional tours have also been scrapped now. It is mostly the men who are locally involved as boat crew, hotel staff in this sector. Tour operators are not hopeful to get business in the coming few months, which makes it difficult for the people involved in this sector to be regularly paid. There is also the apprehension if at all tourism will be revived by the end of the year owing to people’s general fear of travelling.

 

We cannot overlook the connections that although different in lifestyles, socio-economic backgrounds, we are all tied together in this common fate. What is a cause of worry for the delta-dwellers today will become an issue for us city-dwellers tomorrow. The food supply chain which is being crippled now is affecting them today because they cannot sell their produce and it will affect us city dwellers tomorrow when we scramble to buy food or pay high exorbitant prices for it. To conclude we will only hope for a better tomorrow for all of us by following the rules of social distancing and maintaining hygiene today. Stay safe everyone!

 

 

Indian Sundarban Delta’s Gosaba Community Development Block in the time of lockdown

By Sumana Banerjee + Tuhin GhoshAffiliation: School of Oceanographic Studies, Jadavpur University, India

The lockdown in India owing to COVID-19 began on March 24, 2020 with March 22, 2020 declared as a curfew day. The State of West Bengal decided to shut schools and educational institutions from March 16, 2020 and has been under subsequent lockdown since March 24, 2020 which now will continue till May 3, 2020.

 

Needless to say, the lockdown has affected all areas of the country and the state. The more privileged people like us are all working from home and connecting with colleagues from across the world over  Zoom meetings and strategizing work plans to pay attention to work that can be done with our computers at home.

 

A critical piece of the puzzle amidst this planning for us in Living Deltas has been the opportunity to conduct fieldwork, which is now uncertain, especially in India. We respect these impediments to conducting fieldwork but do not let it come between the trust and relationship which we have built with the delta communities over the years. The relationship goes beyond the terms of research and we worry about each other like we do for our friends and families. With developed communication facilities, we are always in touch with them and in this time of lockdown, we learnt from them how they are faring.

 

Our friends from the delta communities were in no way interviewed for research, probing and prompting with questions, because we did not want to encroach upon their time for our personal benefits at this time of crisis. This blog post is a result of the regular conversations with them through which they gave us a picture of the life in the delta at this time, followed by our conclusions, albeit after taking their permission if we can share these through our writing. This is also a humble attempt to take our Living Deltas Hub members to the delta to show them how particularly the Gosaba Community Development Block of the Indian Sundarban Delta (Figure 1) is faring in this time of lockdown, highlighting on the changes in their daily life and changes in their livelihoods.

 

Figure 1 Indian Sundarban Delta showing the 19 Community Development Blocks

Changes in the daily life of the delta

Transport and Communication - The Gosaba Community Development (CD) Block comprises of a cluster of islands and the communication between the islands and to the mainland is mostly facilitated by ferries (Figure 2) and three-wheelers. These have fixed routes and are the only public transport options. With the aim of restricting movement, the lockdown has stopped the operation of these transports. This has naturally affected the earning of these transport operators. As for telecommunications, most delta-dwellers who use mobile phones use prepaid connections which need to be recharged with talktime and internet packages. They are used to visiting shops to get these recharges done and are not familiar of recharging online. With the recharge shops closed now, many are finding it difficult to recharge their phones and keeping the lines of communication alive.

 

 

Figure 2 Ferry as the most common mode of public transport in Gosaba

Markets - People are permitted to go the markets maintaining the norm of social distancing. Markets are permitted to remain ope for 2-3 hours in the morning where people are queuing up a few metres away from each other and buying vegetables, fish, chicken, eggs, grocery and medicines. The big playground in between the State Bank of India branch at Gosaba and Sir Hamilton’s bungalow is being used to operate as a market where sellers are sitting far away from each other and buyers are standing in chalk-circled areas in front of the sellers. Most villagers have a patch of land within their homestead land where they grow vegetables and they also have a pond where they grow fish, both for their personal consumption. In addition to this, they also have stock of rice grains from their own cultivable lands and most people are eligible to rice through the government’s Public Distribution System. Unlike our plight in urban areas where we are compelled to buy rice, vegetables and fish from the market, many villagers in the delta are self-sustaining.  However, with the lockdown being extended, it is a matter of concern for them as to how long this self-sustenance can go on. Grocery stores are permitted to stay open for a stipulated period of time when they are doing brisk business. Many people are also hoarding out of fear for running out of supply of essentials in the future since remoteness of the islands may pose a problem for transportation of essentials from outside the CD Block.

 

Drinking Water - Another aspect of the daily life consists of fetching drinking water. With the summer setting in and all the members of the household staying at home all day, the consumption of water has gone up now, resulting in more number of trips to fetch water from the handpumps, tanks, and standpost water supplies. This might impact the availability of drinking water in the near future in some areas of the delta. Also if because of excess pressure on the pumping station, if the equipment malfunctions, mechanics from the cities cannot travel to fix them.

 

Cooking fuel – Many houses use LPG gas cylinders for cooking. The lockdown has affected the earning of most individuals thereby making it difficult for them to buy new gas cylinders. Many households are now using the timber which they obtained from the trees of their homestead land which got uprooted way back in November 2019 due to the Cyclone Bulbul. If the lockdown continues for a longer period of time, we anticipate that felling of trees in the localities might take place.

 

Education - Schools are closed in the delta and unlike in urban areas where most schools are conducting online classes, the students in the delta do not have such alternatives. Recently, a Bengali news channel has started hosting classes for senior classes. While this is a commendable initiative that more people have access to television than equipment needed to support online classes, the concern remains that not all households in the delta have televisions and those who have televisions may not be able to continue to pay subscription for the news channel in this difficult time when earning is being impacted upon.

 

Health facilities - Medical emergencies in the Gosaba CD Block are attended to at Gosaba or at Canning, the nearest town. In this time of lockdown, the women workers of ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist is a community health worker instituted by the government of India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as a part of the National Rural Health Mission) are actively visiting villages. On a normal day, transporting a patient to Gosaba from the remote islands is an uphill task comprising of arranging boats to reach the mainland, after which ambulances can be arranged. Under this state of lockdown, arranging transport will become even more difficult and this is a cause of worry for the villagers.

 

Role of local governance and administration – The Panchayats, which are the elected governing bodies at the village level in India, have been active in spreading the safety and awareness messages over microphone doing rounds in the villages. Additionally, they have taken the initiative to monitor the migrant workers coming into the villages, suggesting them to stay in home quarantine for the stipulated 14 days. The police have been stationed at certain points monitoring the people in markets, enforcing the rules of lockdown and social distancing.

 

Changes in Livelihoods – The most prominent livelihoods in the Gosaba CD Block are agriculture, riverine fishing, honey collection, and crab collection. Most households rear cows, goats, ducks, and chicken. A significant portion of the population migrates outside the delta for job opportunities. Apart from this, bee-keeping and fish breeding are practiced by some and many of the young men are involved in tourism.

 

Agriculture – So far the lockdown has not affected any agricultural activities but the cultivators face anticipatory anxiety about the disruption in the supply chain which might affect their transportation of the produce at a later date.

 

Riverine Fishing – The lockdown has affected the transportation network and disrupted the supply chain, thereby impacting upon the demand of fishes in the markets outside the CD Block. With no place to sell and no storage facilities available for fishermen in the area, riverine fishing is being practised less now (Figure 3). Also this livelihood is dependent on the tidal conditions which are not always coinciding with the stipulated local market timings where they can sell their catch locally, thereby dampening the impetus to go fishing. The local market is also not a profitable place to sell the catch since the people visiting these local markets have ponds with fishes within their homestead lands, as mentioned earlier, and they seldom buy fishes from these markets.

Figure 3 Riverine fishing practised by the delta dwellers

Honey Collection – Gosaba being a forest fringe CD Block, sees a number of its residents engage in seasonal honey collection which is facilitated by the Forest Department through distribution of permits. The permits to enter the buffer area of the forest for honey collection are issued around beginning to mid of April. This is a one timely earning opportunity for the honey collectors as venturing into the forest during other times is not beneficial as this livelihood is intricately linked with the flowering season and also if they are caught in the forest without a permit, they can face legal charges. The lockdown this year has meant that they have not been allowed to enter the forest yet, and if they are not allowed to do so anytime in the near future, this will have severe impacts upon their yearly income from this livelihood.

 

Crab Collection – This used to be a very lucrative livelihood till before the COVID-19 global crisis. Crabs from the delta are exported worldwide with a very prominent market in China. With a curb on the export, this livelihood has taken a hit from the end of January itself. The crabs which were fit for export used to fetch  INR 800 per kilogram  for the crab collectors and now the price has gone down to INR 100-150 per kilogram. Crab farm owners in the delta are feeding the crabs with nowhere to sell. Individual collectors, who used to sell their catch to the middlemen, also have nowhere to sell their catch since the middlemen who came from outside the delta cannot come now and the supply chain is non-operative. This has compelled some of them to locally sell the crabs at very low prices and the resulting action has been to not enter the forest for crab collection.

 

Livestock and Poultry – Cows and goats which are reared in most households are a source of milk which is helpful in these times when nutritious food supply for all is becoming a cause of worry. Chicken and duck eggs are also beneficial being rich sources of protein. However, since most households have these, there is little to no local demand for these products; and there is no way to sell these outside. This means that the people who are rearing the livestock and poultry are not getting any profit out of the activity. Added to these, is the cost of feeding the animals and the dwindling medicine and feed supply especially for the chicken. Chicken can be sold for the meat but certain rumours were doing the rounds in the CD Block and we learnt of this during our visit in early March. The residents had informed us back then “Chicken has Corona Virus and we will get it if we eat it. Nobody is buying chicken and we have to kill them.” Such rumours have also affected the poultry business where the poultry owners have suffered tremendous losses. However, gradually the rumours are dying down.

 

Migrants – A significant portion of the deltaic population migrate mostly to other States of India for economic opportunities. They are mostly male and in the age group of 21 – 40. We learnt of instances where groups of men who were supposed to go to other States to work, could not do so. This will affect their earning and subsequent expenses as most of the remittances which they send are used on family’s consumption. We also learnt that luckily some people could make their way back to the delta right before the lockdown was announced. The Panchayats have been active to track them down and have enforced the rules of self-isolation for 14 days and monitored the situation. While this is a positive story of migrants reunited with their families, there are many other who are stranded in different parts of the country under precarious conditions with no way to get back to their homes.

 

Beekeeping – This is practised by few people who travel across districts owing to the flowering seasons. Many delta-dwellers and even people from elsewhere come and install the bee-boxes in the forest fringe villages. These boxes are placed in the yard within people’s homestead land against which the beekeepers pay the landowner a rent and also for their meals which are provided by the landowner. We heard of groups who installed the boxes in Satjelia Island with the plan of coming back soon but the lockdown has restricted that. The bees in the installed boxes have to be continuously fed with sugar. Since the groups are not able to return, the bees are gradually dying. The beekeepers are facing losses and even the residents who are used to renting out their land are also missing out on their usual source of income. Two beekeeping teams who came to Satjelia Island and got stuck owing to the lockdown are however getting good amount of honey, possibly due to lack of competition from other bee boxes.

 

Fish farming – Many delta dwellers also practice fish farming in tanks or chambers. The fry are usually bought from outside and there is no prominent hatchery in the area. The lockdown has restricted movement of the seedlings from other States and the beginning of the summers is the ideal time for releasing them in the ponds when they need heat to survive and start growing in the monsoons. This year all these processes could not be carried out, thereby affecting the fish farmers and this will have impacts on fish availability and the consequent fish prices in the future.

 

Tourism – Most of the tourism in Indian Sundarban happens in this Gosaba CD Block. Although March onwards marks the lean period in tourism in the delta owing to onset of summer and the subsequent monsoon, the occasional tours have also been scrapped now. It is mostly the men who are locally involved as boat crew, hotel staff in this sector. Tour operators are not hopeful to get business in the coming few months, which makes it difficult for the people involved in this sector to be regularly paid. There is also the apprehension if at all tourism will be revived by the end of the year owing to people’s general fear of travelling.

 

We cannot overlook the connections that although different in lifestyles, socio-economic backgrounds, we are all tied together in this common fate. What is a cause of worry for the delta-dwellers today will become an issue for us city-dwellers tomorrow. The food supply chain which is being crippled now is affecting them today because they cannot sell their produce and it will affect us city dwellers tomorrow when we scramble to buy food or pay high exorbitant prices for it. To conclude we will only hope for a better tomorrow for all of us by following the rules of social distancing and maintaining hygiene today. Stay safe everyone!

 

 

Indian Sundarban Delta’s Gosaba Community Development Block in the time of lockdown

By Sumana Banerjee + Tuhin GhoshAffiliation: School of Oceanographic Studies, Jadavpur University, India

Changes in the daily life of the delta

Transport and Communication - The Gosaba Community Development (CD) Block comprises of a cluster of islands and the communication between the islands and to the mainland is mostly facilitated by ferries (Figure 2) and three-wheelers. These have fixed routes and are the only public transport options. With the aim of restricting movement, the lockdown has stopped the operation of these transports. This has naturally affected the earning of these transport operators. As for telecommunications, most delta-dwellers who use mobile phones use prepaid connections which need to be recharged with talktime and internet packages. They are used to visiting shops to get these recharges done and are not familiar of recharging online. With the recharge shops closed now, many are finding it difficult to recharge their phones and keeping the lines of communication alive.

Figure 1 Indian Sundarban Delta showing the 19 Community Development Blocks

The lockdown in India owing to COVID-19 began on March 24, 2020 with March 22, 2020 declared as a curfew day. The State of West Bengal decided to shut schools and educational institutions from March 16, 2020 and has been under subsequent lockdown since March 24, 2020 which now will continue till May 3, 2020.

 

Needless to say, the lockdown has affected all areas of the country and the state. The more privileged people like us are all working from home and connecting with colleagues from across the world over  Zoom meetings and strategizing work plans to pay attention to work that can be done with our computers at home.

 

A critical piece of the puzzle amidst this planning for us in Living Deltas has been the opportunity to conduct fieldwork, which is now uncertain, especially in India. We respect these impediments to conducting fieldwork but do not let it come between the trust and relationship which we have built with the delta communities over the years. The relationship goes beyond the terms of research and we worry about each other like we do for our friends and families. With developed communication facilities, we are always in touch with them and in this time of lockdown, we learnt from them how they are faring.

 

Our friends from the delta communities were in no way interviewed for research, probing and prompting with questions, because we did not want to encroach upon their time for our personal benefits at this time of crisis. This blog post is a result of the regular conversations with them through which they gave us a picture of the life in the delta at this time, followed by our conclusions, albeit after taking their permission if we can share these through our writing. This is also a humble attempt to take our Living Deltas Hub members to the delta to show them how particularly the Gosaba Community Development Block of the Indian Sundarban Delta (Figure 1) is faring in this time of lockdown, highlighting on the changes in their daily life and changes in their livelihoods.

 

Figure 2 Ferry as the most common mode of public transport in Gosaba

Markets - People are permitted to go the markets maintaining the norm of social distancing. Markets are permitted to remain ope for 2-3 hours in the morning where people are queuing up a few metres away from each other and buying vegetables, fish, chicken, eggs, grocery and medicines. The big playground in between the State Bank of India branch at Gosaba and Sir Hamilton’s bungalow is being used to operate as a market where sellers are sitting far away from each other and buyers are standing in chalk-circled areas in front of the sellers. Most villagers have a patch of land within their homestead land where they grow vegetables and they also have a pond where they grow fish, both for their personal consumption. In addition to this, they also have stock of rice grains from their own cultivable lands and most people are eligible to rice through the government’s Public Distribution System. Unlike our plight in urban areas where we are compelled to buy rice, vegetables and fish from the market, many villagers in the delta are self-sustaining.  However, with the lockdown being extended, it is a matter of concern for them as to how long this self-sustenance can go on. Grocery stores are permitted to stay open for a stipulated period of time when they are doing brisk business. Many people are also hoarding out of fear for running out of supply of essentials in the future since remoteness of the islands may pose a problem for transportation of essentials from outside the CD Block.

 

Drinking Water - Another aspect of the daily life consists of fetching drinking water. With the summer setting in and all the members of the household staying at home all day, the consumption of water has gone up now, resulting in more number of trips to fetch water from the handpumps, tanks, and standpost water supplies. This might impact the availability of drinking water in the near future in some areas of the delta. Also if because of excess pressure on the pumping station, if the equipment malfunctions, mechanics from the cities cannot travel to fix them.

 

Cooking fuel – Many houses use LPG gas cylinders for cooking. The lockdown has affected the earning of most individuals thereby making it difficult for them to buy new gas cylinders. Many households are now using the timber which they obtained from the trees of their homestead land which got uprooted way back in November 2019 due to the Cyclone Bulbul. If the lockdown continues for a longer period of time, we anticipate that felling of trees in the localities might take place.

 

Education - Schools are closed in the delta and unlike in urban areas where most schools are conducting online classes, the students in the delta do not have such alternatives. Recently, a Bengali news channel has started hosting classes for senior classes. While this is a commendable initiative that more people have access to television than equipment needed to support online classes, the concern remains that not all households in the delta have televisions and those who have televisions may not be able to continue to pay subscription for the news channel in this difficult time when earning is being impacted upon.

 

Health facilities - Medical emergencies in the Gosaba CD Block are attended to at Gosaba or at Canning, the nearest town. In this time of lockdown, the women workers of ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist is a community health worker instituted by the government of India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as a part of the National Rural Health Mission) are actively visiting villages. On a normal day, transporting a patient to Gosaba from the remote islands is an uphill task comprising of arranging boats to reach the mainland, after which ambulances can be arranged. Under this state of lockdown, arranging transport will become even more difficult and this is a cause of worry for the villagers.

 

Role of local governance and administration – The Panchayats, which are the elected governing bodies at the village level in India, have been active in spreading the safety and awareness messages over microphone doing rounds in the villages. Additionally, they have taken the initiative to monitor the migrant workers coming into the villages, suggesting them to stay in home quarantine for the stipulated 14 days. The police have been stationed at certain points monitoring the people in markets, enforcing the rules of lockdown and social distancing.

 

Changes in Livelihoods – The most prominent livelihoods in the Gosaba CD Block are agriculture, riverine fishing, honey collection, and crab collection. Most households rear cows, goats, ducks, and chicken. A significant portion of the population migrates outside the delta for job opportunities. Apart from this, bee-keeping and fish breeding are practiced by some and many of the young men are involved in tourism.

 

Agriculture – So far the lockdown has not affected any agricultural activities but the cultivators face anticipatory anxiety about the disruption in the supply chain which might affect their transportation of the produce at a later date.

 

Riverine Fishing – The lockdown has affected the transportation network and disrupted the supply chain, thereby impacting upon the demand of fishes in the markets outside the CD Block. With no place to sell and no storage facilities available for fishermen in the area, riverine fishing is being practised less now (Figure 3). Also this livelihood is dependent on the tidal conditions which are not always coinciding with the stipulated local market timings where they can sell their catch locally, thereby dampening the impetus to go fishing. The local market is also not a profitable place to sell the catch since the people visiting these local markets have ponds with fishes within their homestead lands, as mentioned earlier, and they seldom buy fishes from these markets.

Figure 3 Riverine fishing practised by the delta dwellers

Honey Collection – Gosaba being a forest fringe CD Block, sees a number of its residents engage in seasonal honey collection which is facilitated by the Forest Department through distribution of permits. The permits to enter the buffer area of the forest for honey collection are issued around beginning to mid of April. This is a one timely earning opportunity for the honey collectors as venturing into the forest during other times is not beneficial as this livelihood is intricately linked with the flowering season and also if they are caught in the forest without a permit, they can face legal charges. The lockdown this year has meant that they have not been allowed to enter the forest yet, and if they are not allowed to do so anytime in the near future, this will have severe impacts upon their yearly income from this livelihood.

 

Crab Collection – This used to be a very lucrative livelihood till before the COVID-19 global crisis. Crabs from the delta are exported worldwide with a very prominent market in China. With a curb on the export, this livelihood has taken a hit from the end of January itself. The crabs which were fit for export used to fetch  INR 800 per kilogram  for the crab collectors and now the price has gone down to INR 100-150 per kilogram. Crab farm owners in the delta are feeding the crabs with nowhere to sell. Individual collectors, who used to sell their catch to the middlemen, also have nowhere to sell their catch since the middlemen who came from outside the delta cannot come now and the supply chain is non-operative. This has compelled some of them to locally sell the crabs at very low prices and the resulting action has been to not enter the forest for crab collection.

 

Livestock and Poultry – Cows and goats which are reared in most households are a source of milk which is helpful in these times when nutritious food supply for all is becoming a cause of worry. Chicken and duck eggs are also beneficial being rich sources of protein. However, since most households have these, there is little to no local demand for these products; and there is no way to sell these outside. This means that the people who are rearing the livestock and poultry are not getting any profit out of the activity. Added to these, is the cost of feeding the animals and the dwindling medicine and feed supply especially for the chicken. Chicken can be sold for the meat but certain rumours were doing the rounds in the CD Block and we learnt of this during our visit in early March. The residents had informed us back then “Chicken has Corona Virus and we will get it if we eat it. Nobody is buying chicken and we have to kill them.” Such rumours have also affected the poultry business where the poultry owners have suffered tremendous losses. However, gradually the rumours are dying down.

 

Migrants – A significant portion of the deltaic population migrate mostly to other States of India for economic opportunities. They are mostly male and in the age group of 21 – 40. We learnt of instances where groups of men who were supposed to go to other States to work, could not do so. This will affect their earning and subsequent expenses as most of the remittances which they send are used on family’s consumption. We also learnt that luckily some people could make their way back to the delta right before the lockdown was announced. The Panchayats have been active to track them down and have enforced the rules of self-isolation for 14 days and monitored the situation. While this is a positive story of migrants reunited with their families, there are many other who are stranded in different parts of the country under precarious conditions with no way to get back to their homes.

 

Beekeeping – This is practised by few people who travel across districts owing to the flowering seasons. Many delta-dwellers and even people from elsewhere come and install the bee-boxes in the forest fringe villages. These boxes are placed in the yard within people’s homestead land against which the beekeepers pay the landowner a rent and also for their meals which are provided by the landowner. We heard of groups who installed the boxes in Satjelia Island with the plan of coming back soon but the lockdown has restricted that. The bees in the installed boxes have to be continuously fed with sugar. Since the groups are not able to return, the bees are gradually dying. The beekeepers are facing losses and even the residents who are used to renting out their land are also missing out on their usual source of income. Two beekeeping teams who came to Satjelia Island and got stuck owing to the lockdown are however getting good amount of honey, possibly due to lack of competition from other bee boxes.

 

Fish farming – Many delta dwellers also practice fish farming in tanks or chambers. The fry are usually bought from outside and there is no prominent hatchery in the area. The lockdown has restricted movement of the seedlings from other States and the beginning of the summers is the ideal time for releasing them in the ponds when they need heat to survive and start growing in the monsoons. This year all these processes could not be carried out, thereby affecting the fish farmers and this will have impacts on fish availability and the consequent fish prices in the future.

 

Tourism – Most of the tourism in Indian Sundarban happens in this Gosaba CD Block. Although March onwards marks the lean period in tourism in the delta owing to onset of summer and the subsequent monsoon, the occasional tours have also been scrapped now. It is mostly the men who are locally involved as boat crew, hotel staff in this sector. Tour operators are not hopeful to get business in the coming few months, which makes it difficult for the people involved in this sector to be regularly paid. There is also the apprehension if at all tourism will be revived by the end of the year owing to people’s general fear of travelling.

 

We cannot overlook the connections that although different in lifestyles, socio-economic backgrounds, we are all tied together in this common fate. What is a cause of worry for the delta-dwellers today will become an issue for us city-dwellers tomorrow. The food supply chain which is being crippled now is affecting them today because they cannot sell their produce and it will affect us city dwellers tomorrow when we scramble to buy food or pay high exorbitant prices for it. To conclude we will only hope for a better tomorrow for all of us by following the rules of social distancing and maintaining hygiene today. Stay safe everyone!

 

 

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Indian Sundarban Delta’s Gosaba Community Development Block in the time of lockdown

By Sumana Banerjee + Tuhin GhoshAffiliation: School of Oceanographic Studies, Jadavpur University, India

The lockdown in India owing to COVID-19 began on March 24, 2020 with March 22, 2020 declared as a curfew day. The State of West Bengal decided to shut schools and educational institutions from March 16, 2020 and has been under subsequent lockdown since March 24, 2020 which now will continue till May 3, 2020.

 

Needless to say, the lockdown has affected all areas of the country and the state. The more privileged people like us are all working from home and connecting with colleagues from across the world over  Zoom meetings and strategizing work plans to pay attention to work that can be done with our computers at home.

 

A critical piece of the puzzle amidst this planning for us in Living Deltas has been the opportunity to conduct fieldwork, which is now uncertain, especially in India. We respect these impediments to conducting fieldwork but do not let it come between the trust and relationship which we have built with the delta communities over the years. The relationship goes beyond the terms of research and we worry about each other like we do for our friends and families. With developed communication facilities, we are always in touch with them and in this time of lockdown, we learnt from them how they are faring.

 

Our friends from the delta communities were in no way interviewed for research, probing and prompting with questions, because we did not want to encroach upon their time for our personal benefits at this time of crisis. This blog post is a result of the regular conversations with them through which they gave us a picture of the life in the delta at this time, followed by our conclusions, albeit after taking their permission if we can share these through our writing. This is also a humble attempt to take our Living Deltas Hub members to the delta to show them how particularly the Gosaba Community Development Block of the Indian Sundarban Delta (Figure 1) is faring in this time of lockdown, highlighting on the changes in their daily life and changes in their livelihoods.

 

Figure 1 Indian Sundarban Delta showing the 19 Community Development Blocks

Changes in the daily life of the delta

Transport and Communication - The Gosaba Community Development (CD) Block comprises of a cluster of islands and the communication between the islands and to the mainland is mostly facilitated by ferries (Figure 2) and three-wheelers. These have fixed routes and are the only public transport options. With the aim of restricting movement, the lockdown has stopped the operation of these transports. This has naturally affected the earning of these transport operators. As for telecommunications, most delta-dwellers who use mobile phones use prepaid connections which need to be recharged with talktime and internet packages. They are used to visiting shops to get these recharges done and are not familiar of recharging online. With the recharge shops closed now, many are finding it difficult to recharge their phones and keeping the lines of communication alive.

Figure 2 Ferry as the most common mode of public transport in Gosaba

Markets - People are permitted to go the markets maintaining the norm of social distancing. Markets are permitted to remain ope for 2-3 hours in the morning where people are queuing up a few metres away from each other and buying vegetables, fish, chicken, eggs, grocery and medicines. The big playground in between the State Bank of India branch at Gosaba and Sir Hamilton’s bungalow is being used to operate as a market where sellers are sitting far away from each other and buyers are standing in chalk-circled areas in front of the sellers. Most villagers have a patch of land within their homestead land where they grow vegetables and they also have a pond where they grow fish, both for their personal consumption. In addition to this, they also have stock of rice grains from their own cultivable lands and most people are eligible to rice through the government’s Public Distribution System. Unlike our plight in urban areas where we are compelled to buy rice, vegetables and fish from the market, many villagers in the delta are self-sustaining.  However, with the lockdown being extended, it is a matter of concern for them as to how long this self-sustenance can go on. Grocery stores are permitted to stay open for a stipulated period of time when they are doing brisk business. Many people are also hoarding out of fear for running out of supply of essentials in the future since remoteness of the islands may pose a problem for transportation of essentials from outside the CD Block.

 

Drinking Water - Another aspect of the daily life consists of fetching drinking water. With the summer setting in and all the members of the household staying at home all day, the consumption of water has gone up now, resulting in more number of trips to fetch water from the handpumps, tanks, and standpost water supplies. This might impact the availability of drinking water in the near future in some areas of the delta. Also if because of excess pressure on the pumping station, if the equipment malfunctions, mechanics from the cities cannot travel to fix them.

 

Cooking fuel – Many houses use LPG gas cylinders for cooking. The lockdown has affected the earning of most individuals thereby making it difficult for them to buy new gas cylinders. Many households are now using the timber which they obtained from the trees of their homestead land which got uprooted way back in November 2019 due to the Cyclone Bulbul. If the lockdown continues for a longer period of time, we anticipate that felling of trees in the localities might take place.

 

Education - Schools are closed in the delta and unlike in urban areas where most schools are conducting online classes, the students in the delta do not have such alternatives. Recently, a Bengali news channel has started hosting classes for senior classes. While this is a commendable initiative that more people have access to television than equipment needed to support online classes, the concern remains that not all households in the delta have televisions and those who have televisions may not be able to continue to pay subscription for the news channel in this difficult time when earning is being impacted upon.

 

Health facilities - Medical emergencies in the Gosaba CD Block are attended to at Gosaba or at Canning, the nearest town. In this time of lockdown, the women workers of ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist is a community health worker instituted by the government of India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as a part of the National Rural Health Mission) are actively visiting villages. On a normal day, transporting a patient to Gosaba from the remote islands is an uphill task comprising of arranging boats to reach the mainland, after which ambulances can be arranged. Under this state of lockdown, arranging transport will become even more difficult and this is a cause of worry for the villagers.

 

Role of local governance and administration – The Panchayats, which are the elected governing bodies at the village level in India, have been active in spreading the safety and awareness messages over microphone doing rounds in the villages. Additionally, they have taken the initiative to monitor the migrant workers coming into the villages, suggesting them to stay in home quarantine for the stipulated 14 days. The police have been stationed at certain points monitoring the people in markets, enforcing the rules of lockdown and social distancing.

 

Changes in Livelihoods – The most prominent livelihoods in the Gosaba CD Block are agriculture, riverine fishing, honey collection, and crab collection. Most households rear cows, goats, ducks, and chicken. A significant portion of the population migrates outside the delta for job opportunities. Apart from this, bee-keeping and fish breeding are practiced by some and many of the young men are involved in tourism.

 

Agriculture – So far the lockdown has not affected any agricultural activities but the cultivators face anticipatory anxiety about the disruption in the supply chain which might affect their transportation of the produce at a later date.

 

Riverine Fishing – The lockdown has affected the transportation network and disrupted the supply chain, thereby impacting upon the demand of fishes in the markets outside the CD Block. With no place to sell and no storage facilities available for fishermen in the area, riverine fishing is being practised less now (Figure 3). Also this livelihood is dependent on the tidal conditions which are not always coinciding with the stipulated local market timings where they can sell their catch locally, thereby dampening the impetus to go fishing. The local market is also not a profitable place to sell the catch since the people visiting these local markets have ponds with fishes within their homestead lands, as mentioned earlier, and they seldom buy fishes from these markets.

Figure 3 Riverine fishing practised by the delta dwellers

Honey Collection – Gosaba being a forest fringe CD Block, sees a number of its residents engage in seasonal honey collection which is facilitated by the Forest Department through distribution of permits. The permits to enter the buffer area of the forest for honey collection are issued around beginning to mid of April. This is a one timely earning opportunity for the honey collectors as venturing into the forest during other times is not beneficial as this livelihood is intricately linked with the flowering season and also if they are caught in the forest without a permit, they can face legal charges. The lockdown this year has meant that they have not been allowed to enter the forest yet, and if they are not allowed to do so anytime in the near future, this will have severe impacts upon their yearly income from this livelihood.

 

Crab Collection – This used to be a very lucrative livelihood till before the COVID-19 global crisis. Crabs from the delta are exported worldwide with a very prominent market in China. With a curb on the export, this livelihood has taken a hit from the end of January itself. The crabs which were fit for export used to fetch  INR 800 per kilogram  for the crab collectors and now the price has gone down to INR 100-150 per kilogram. Crab farm owners in the delta are feeding the crabs with nowhere to sell. Individual collectors, who used to sell their catch to the middlemen, also have nowhere to sell their catch since the middlemen who came from outside the delta cannot come now and the supply chain is non-operative. This has compelled some of them to locally sell the crabs at very low prices and the resulting action has been to not enter the forest for crab collection.

 

Livestock and Poultry – Cows and goats which are reared in most households are a source of milk which is helpful in these times when nutritious food supply for all is becoming a cause of worry. Chicken and duck eggs are also beneficial being rich sources of protein. However, since most households have these, there is little to no local demand for these products; and there is no way to sell these outside. This means that the people who are rearing the livestock and poultry are not getting any profit out of the activity. Added to these, is the cost of feeding the animals and the dwindling medicine and feed supply especially for the chicken. Chicken can be sold for the meat but certain rumours were doing the rounds in the CD Block and we learnt of this during our visit in early March. The residents had informed us back then “Chicken has Corona Virus and we will get it if we eat it. Nobody is buying chicken and we have to kill them.” Such rumours have also affected the poultry business where the poultry owners have suffered tremendous losses. However, gradually the rumours are dying down.

 

Migrants – A significant portion of the deltaic population migrate mostly to other States of India for economic opportunities. They are mostly male and in the age group of 21 – 40. We learnt of instances where groups of men who were supposed to go to other States to work, could not do so. This will affect their earning and subsequent expenses as most of the remittances which they send are used on family’s consumption. We also learnt that luckily some people could make their way back to the delta right before the lockdown was announced. The Panchayats have been active to track them down and have enforced the rules of self-isolation for 14 days and monitored the situation. While this is a positive story of migrants reunited with their families, there are many other who are stranded in different parts of the country under precarious conditions with no way to get back to their homes.

 

Beekeeping – This is practised by few people who travel across districts owing to the flowering seasons. Many delta-dwellers and even people from elsewhere come and install the bee-boxes in the forest fringe villages. These boxes are placed in the yard within people’s homestead land against which the beekeepers pay the landowner a rent and also for their meals which are provided by the landowner. We heard of groups who installed the boxes in Satjelia Island with the plan of coming back soon but the lockdown has restricted that. The bees in the installed boxes have to be continuously fed with sugar. Since the groups are not able to return, the bees are gradually dying. The beekeepers are facing losses and even the residents who are used to renting out their land are also missing out on their usual source of income. Two beekeeping teams who came to Satjelia Island and got stuck owing to the lockdown are however getting good amount of honey, possibly due to lack of competition from other bee boxes.

 

Fish farming – Many delta dwellers also practice fish farming in tanks or chambers. The fry are usually bought from outside and there is no prominent hatchery in the area. The lockdown has restricted movement of the seedlings from other States and the beginning of the summers is the ideal time for releasing them in the ponds when they need heat to survive and start growing in the monsoons. This year all these processes could not be carried out, thereby affecting the fish farmers and this will have impacts on fish availability and the consequent fish prices in the future.

 

Tourism – Most of the tourism in Indian Sundarban happens in this Gosaba CD Block. Although March onwards marks the lean period in tourism in the delta owing to onset of summer and the subsequent monsoon, the occasional tours have also been scrapped now. It is mostly the men who are locally involved as boat crew, hotel staff in this sector. Tour operators are not hopeful to get business in the coming few months, which makes it difficult for the people involved in this sector to be regularly paid. There is also the apprehension if at all tourism will be revived by the end of the year owing to people’s general fear of travelling.

 

We cannot overlook the connections that although different in lifestyles, socio-economic backgrounds, we are all tied together in this common fate. What is a cause of worry for the delta-dwellers today will become an issue for us city-dwellers tomorrow. The food supply chain which is being crippled now is affecting them today because they cannot sell their produce and it will affect us city dwellers tomorrow when we scramble to buy food or pay high exorbitant prices for it. To conclude we will only hope for a better tomorrow for all of us by following the rules of social distancing and maintaining hygiene today. Stay safe everyone!

 

 

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