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Poisoning the Sundarbans legally!

Published : 18 Aug 2022 09:45 PM

Many fishermen and poachers use lethal poison in rivers, canals and other water bodies in the Sundarbans to catch shrimps, crabs and other fishes.

Use of such poison puts fishes and biodiversity in the Sundarbans at risk. However, a section of fishermen is involved in poisoning canals in the Sundarbans though using poison during fishing even after collecting legal passes for fishing there. 

On the other hand, the fishes, which are caught through using poison, are sold in the markets posing serious health concerns for consumers as well as people.

About fishing with poison, the High Court has observed that by fishing in the Sundarbans through using such methods, the entire Sundarbans area will become fishless and the biodiversity of the biggest natural mangrove forest in the world and its plant diversity will be completely destroyed. 

The HC bench of Justice M Enayetur Rahim (currently a judge of the Appellate Division) and Justice Mustafizur Rahman made the observation in the written judgement.

The written judgement has been published and it was uploaded on the website of the Supreme Court. The HC bench had pronounced the judgement on September 16 last year following a writ petition. 

Advocate Al Faisal Siddiqui was the lawyer for the writ petition in the court, while Deputy Attorney General Bipul Bagmar had represented the state.

In the written judgement, the High Court said that if crabs are caught or if fishing is done with poison by using ‘Charu method’, a local method for catching crab, all the passengers of that boat, used for fishing with Charu method, should be banned from entering the Sundarbans for a certain period of time.

Advocate Al Faisal Siddiqui said that the Department of Forest allows the transport of all types of fish from Dublar Char using Poshur River in registered trawlers. However, crabs were not allowed to be carried. As a result, many crabs died due to delay in bringing them to Khulna after catching them.

Against this backdrop, fishermen and crab harvesters of Dakop and Batiaghata areas on August 12 in 2018 submitted an application to the Chief Conservator of Forests, seeking permission for transporting crabs in engine-run boats. The fishermen filed a writ petition in the High Court that year as the forest department did not respond to their application. The High Court ordered to dispose of the application within 30 days.

Later, the Department of Forest dismissed the application on December 5 of that year and did not allow transport of the crabs. Eight people, including one Jahan Ali Gazi, filed a writ petition in 2019 challenging the decision of the Forest Department. The High Court delivered a verdict in this regard on September 16 in 2021.

In the verdict, the court said that a section of fishermen collects passes for fishing in the Sundarbans and poisons the canals flowing inside the Sundarbans for their purpose. As a result, all kinds of flora and fauna are destroyed in the poisoned canals. If the fishing with poison continues in the Sundarbans, the fish in the entire Sundarbans area will be depleted and the plant diversity along with the biodiversity of the Sundarbans will be completely destroyed.

The High Court in the verdict placed a seven-point guideline in this regard.  The guidelines are- 

1. The fishermen, including the petitioners, can harvest crab of a certain weight only through boats that run without engine by paying a certain amount of revenue at the concerned station office in Sundarbans for a certain period and collecting a pass (permission).

2. No engine-run boat or trawler can be plied in the canals of the reserved areas of Sundrabnas under any circumstance. For this, the Forest Department and the law enforcement agencies must be more active in Sundarbans.

3. Boats and boatmen concerned must be strictly checked by the station office of the Forest Department while entering the Sundarbans for crab harvesting with a pass. In this case it would be expedient to check their boats and allow them to enter the Sundarbans during the day.

4. Handbills/posters with awareness massages can be provided to every boat pass holder on entry into Sundarbans. 

5. As the fish from the rivers and canals in the Sundarbans are collected from the fishing village Dubla and transported by motorized boats or trawlers for marketing, permission has been given by the concerned authorities. Therefore, similarly crabs harvested through only using the boat without engine are collected from Dubla and any other recognized place within Sundarbans where there is no restriction on the movement of engine-run boat or trawler and transported by engine-run boat or trawler for speedy marketing must be allowed. 

In that case, for a specified period, authorized motor boats or trawlers should be stationed at specific places for transporting crabs and when such motor boats/trawlers enter the Sundarbans, the local station office authorities will strictly check the boats/trawlers and allow them to enter the Sundarbans, so that any illegal items, which can destroy the biodiversity and plant diversity of the Sundarbans, should not be introduced in the Sundarbans.

6. Officials of the local administration, law enforcement agencies, agriculture department, fisheries department and forest department in the Sundarbans area should regularly search the local markets, drug stores along with the shops selling fertilizers, medicines and seeds for agriculture to ensure that no unauthorized poisons are sold in the area.

7. Strict action should be taken if any illegal goods are found in the hands of crab harvesters, fishermen and other professions while entering Sundarbans by collecting passes or staying in Sundarbans.

It was known that many fishermen and poachers use poison like syrup. They spray a few drops of this lethal liquid into the canals and water bodies and within minutes all types of shrimps and crabs start crawling up the shores in a bid to escape. The fishermen and poachers quickly pick their catches and disappear into the vast network of canals of the mangrove. Within half an hour, fishing is complete. 

For using the poison in such a way, other fishes get washed away in the current, dead or dying. The poisonous water mixes with the current towards the sea kills fishes, baby crocodiles, snakes and many other aquatic creatures.

It was also known that particular poison is smuggled in Sundarbans and is available in the shops selling pesticide and insecticide in the villages near the forest.