Ichamati: River of poetry is dying a slow death

Illegal transverse check dams (Badhals) built on Ichamati near a village in Basirhat (Image: Prithviraj Nath @ TheWaterChronicles)
Illegal transverse check dams (Badhals) built on Ichamati near a village in Basirhat (Image: Prithviraj Nath @ TheWaterChronicles)
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River Ichamati is venerated as a living entity and its fertile flood plains have been catering to the expanding human-mediated demands apart from harbouring an enormous assemblage of aquatic flora and fauna. Ichamati’s rich floodplains directly sustain the livelihoods of indigenous riverine communities coupled with thousands of migrant labourers and refugees residing along and across its basin in North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal.

study estimates that there are around 200,000 people whose livelihoods are directly dependent on this river. During 1991-2001, many Bangladeshi immigrants permanently inhabited the rural (333,000) and urban (565,000) stretches respectively along the Indian side of the Ichamati basin due to better economic prospects in the agricultural, allied, industrial and tourism sectors.

From a biodiversity perspective, Ichamati is one the of major feeder rivers traversing along the Sundarbans Biosphere Reserve which is a hotspot for 1186 numbers of known irreplaceable biomes including 334 plants322 fish and 428 bird species, to list a few. Ichamati swerves through this estuarial ecosystem which is a stronghold for threatened and endangered avian species like white-rumped vulture, masked finfoot, brown-winged kingfisher in addition to the Royal Bengal Tiger, Irrawaddy dolphin, Indian python, estuarine crocodile and river Terrapin.

Owing to erratic weather patterns as a direct consequence of climate change in conjunction with unsustainable and unbridled anthropogenic avarice, the Sundarbans mangrove ecosystem as a whole and most of its linked biodiversity have been marked endangered by the IUCN’s Red List of Ecosystems framework.

Unfortunately, due to the degeneration of river Ichamati as a result of human encroachment along its floodplains and growing levels of water pollution, the sustenance of Sundarbans and its ecosystem services is becoming an alarming imperative from an ecological and economical prism.

There is a need for a clarion call for implementing timely, effective, layered and long-term interventions from the scientific, community and economic angles to save Ichamati and the Sundarbans, by such means protecting its diverse ecosystem and livelihoods of more than 7.5 million people.

Name of village Cropping area 2019, ha Cropping area 2020, ha Cropping area 2021, ha Cropping area 2022, ha Times increased over the pre-construction period
Hatti 146 603 383 644 4.8
Nidhona 212 606 158 612 2.87
Wawna 139 428 389 369 2.6

Morphological variations in Ichamati along its upstream and downstream

Ichamati is one of the bifurcations of river Mathabhanga and originates at Mahjdia village in the Nadia district of West Bengal. It is a life-sustaining transboundary tidal river that traverses along West Bengal and Bangladesh, covering a distance of around 216 km before discharging into river Kalindi at Hasnabad in North Parganas and finally outfalls into the Bay of Bengal near Moore Island.

Options for carrying out the social audit in these challenging times -

  • Transparency in sharing MGNREGA details: All important information related to the scheme must be exhibited in common places in the gram panchayat. Some community leaders, youth groups, and SHG should check its compliance by gram panchayats and report any noncompliances in the recording during the social audit.
  • Physical verification of assets: Social audit team with guidance from the resource person can carry out physical verifications of assets after intimating gram panchayats. They should click photos, make videos, and upload them on the government portal.

From 1916-2020, the channel course of Ichamati’s water has seen sharp changes, majorly due to human interventions apart from historical and geological factors. Several spatiotemporal studies on Ichamati have highlighted concerns about its changing morphology leading to narrowing channel width, changing channel mobility and increasing rate of sedimentation as a combined result of haphazard human encroachments and vagaries of climate change.

Meander configuration of Ichamati at Hugle-Mathpara Region has changed from curved to angular from 1916 to 2002 (Image: Hosain, Das & Dasgupta, Journal of Indian Geomorphology)

As per a 2020 study, changes in the land use pattern to meet the insatiable demand for crop production and export of bricks is one the major human-induced contributors to morphological modification of Ichamati’s channel character and change of discharge. In the upstream areas like Mahjdia, the river channel is narrow wherein local inhabitants have forcefully occupied a large portion of the river basin for agricultural activities (estimated to be around 38%) while this proportion gradually decreases towards the downstream as seen in the picture below.

The height of Ichamati’s riverbed has gradually increased in the upper stretches as tillage for cropping generates loose topsoil that gets transported into the river channel during the monsoon and due to low water velocity, river discharge is not sufficient to flush out the load downstream. Consequently, several patches in upstream have low water depth due to increased sedimentation. This has a detrimental impact on the life-cycle of indigenous fish species which have been the mainstay of livelihood for riverine communities.

Land use pattern along Ichamati basin from North to South has significantly altered the river morphology and its meander configuration. Mushrooming of illegal brick kilns (as seen in Red) are a matter of concern from an ecological perspective. (Image: Mondal & Satpati 2020)

Akshat Mishra is a policy researcher working in the domain of water-energy-food security in the South Asian region. Presently he is working as a Coordinator, Campaigns at the Water Chronicles. He can be reached at akshat.mishra90@gmail.com

This story is produced as a direct part of the Project Ichamati Kawtha: Climate musings of a transboundary river that aims to strengthen existing evidence, dialogues, partnerships and action on the menace of plastic and other forms of pollution in the transboundary river Ichamati and its linked water systems to enable climate action.   

Post By: tridmin