Connecting the spots

Notes on migration and environment from a geographical perspective



DECCMA analyzes the impacts of climate change and other environmental drivers and processes of migration across contrasting deltas in Africa and Asia. The project study sites are the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna delta (Bangladesh and India), Mahanadi delta (India) and Volta delta (Ghana). The India team consists of Jadavpur University, Centre for Environment and Development, Chilika Development Authority (Orissa), SANSRITI, Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (IITK), and the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC).

Feb 6th 2017 by DECCMA India

Environmental Migration from ‘No Man’s Land’- Displaced People in the Indian Sundarban Islands

Ghoramara is a small island in the far south west corner of the Indian Sundarban Delta (ISD). People from this island are mainly engaged in livelihoods including agriculture and fishing. However, these livelihoods are threatened by significant land loss, embankment breaching, and cyclone and storm surges.

By Colette Mortreux, Rituparna Hajra and Tuhin Ghosh – Deltas, Vulnerability and Climate Change: Migration and Adaptation (DECCMA) project

Ghoramara was a part of the larger Sagar Island until 1881. Around 1914 the northern tip of Sagar Island was cut off from the rest of the island and subsequently Ghoramara, Khasimara, Lohachara, Suparibhanga, and Bedford were formed. However, Ghoramara still falls under the jurisdiction of the Sagar Block of South 24 Parganas district.

Ghoramara island is also experiencing change. Its total area was 8.51 km2 in 1975, but decreased substantially to 4.43 km2 in 2012 – due to a rate of erosion (seen in figure 1).  The geomorphological changes observed on Ghoramara are largely the result of changes in estuarine hydrodynamics and rising sea levels.  The islands of the Hooghly estuary, including Ghoramara, were stable when the freshwater influx from the river Ganges was high, but  a tectonic tilt pushed the Ganges eastward, leading to a drastic reduction in the freshwater inflow into the estuary, causing an imbalance in its natural settings.


Figure 1: The changing land area of Ghoramara between 1975 and 2012.

As a result of the changing size and shape of Ghoramara, several villages have already been submerged, including Khasimara Char, Lakshmi Narayanpur, Khasimara, and Baishnabpara.  Around 1977 the then-Government of West Bengal declared Ghoramara island as a ‘No man's land’, which meant it was no longer willing to take any responsibility for construction of embankments, or provide other support services like health, drinking water, and education – despite the fact that around 5,000 people still inhabited the island.  

Another island under the administrative jurisdiction of the Sagar Block - Lohachara - was completely submerged between 1986-1999, which rapidly depleted in house hold numbers throughout the years—with 374 households in 1971, 220 households in 1981, and no household residents in 1991, according to census reports. Habitat loss and gradual loss in ecosystem services forced the inhabitants of these islands to migrate to other places. The displaced people from Lohachara, Ghoramara, and another island – Khasimara - were resettled on other island colonies, including Gangasagar I and II, Kamalpur, Mansadweep, Bankimnagar, Chakphuldubi, and Jibantala, whilst some went to the mainland. 

The amount of support provided to these sorts of migrants has changed over time. Officials from the Land Records Department of Sagar Block mentioned that the first wave of resettlement in the late 1970s was initiated with a resolution passed by the Panchayat Samiti, which granted Pattas (legal titles) to resettlers in selected areas of Sagar Island.  The first phase of resettlers largely came from Lohachara and settled in Gangasagar colony and Bankimnagar. There they received about 1.2 to 1.6 acres for each household.

The second phase of out-migration from Ghoramara and Khasimara occurred around 1996, when they was resettled in Khasramchar. They were granted 0.4 to 0.8 acres of land, with a one room house from government schemes (Indira Awas Yojana).  They also received government rations, including 300 grams of wheat and 500 grams of rice per head per week.  A member from Gram Panchayat of that time recalls that, for the purpose of resettlement, stable embankments and fresh water ponds were constructed.

Recently the government initiative for the resettlement of displaced people from Ghoramara and Lohachara has stopped due to pressure on resources on Sagar Island. Resettled people are now complaining of degradation of living conditions of these colonies. In Sagar Island, the colonies of Jibantala and Gangasagar colony are facing severe problems like limited availability of drinking water and poor sanitation.

However, the flow of migrants from Ghoramara still continues as a consequence of land loss. There are no official statistics on the exact number of these ‘environmental migrants.’ Ghosh et al. (2014) outlined an estimation of the number of migrants from the difference between the expected and actual population, using the population growth rate and population data (Census). Actual growth is much lower than the expected growth of the Ghoramara, whereas actual population of Sagar Island became higher than the expected population (figure 2). These discrepancies are likely attributable to out-migration.


Figure 2: Population Growth Trend in Ghoramara and Sagar Island during 1971-2001 (Ghosh et al 2014).

Neither the government of India nor the state government of West Bengal have a resettlement and rehabilitation policy for displaced people, nor any kind of compensation package earmarked for such environmental migrants. According to international laws, these displaced people are yet to be recognized as environmental refugees and thus are not under the jurisdiction of the Rehabilitation Department. With no program of support, and limited skill and livelihood options for displaced people, there is often further out-migration of the labour force from these resettled areas, shifting the problems elsewhere.

For further information:

Ghosh, T., Hajra, R. and Mukhopadhyay, A. (2014).  Island Erosion and Afflicted Population: Crisis and Policies to Handle Climate Change. In: International Perspectives on Climate Change: Latin America and Beyond. Ed: Filho Leal, Fátima Alves, Sandra Caeiro and Ulisses Azeiteiro, IX, 217-226, Springer.