The study area comprises the eastern part of the Bardhaman district including Katoya, and Kalna Sub-Divisions which is a wide alluvial plain enclosed by the Ajay, the Bhagirathi and the Damodar on the north, east and south respectively. To the west of the area lies the Barddhaman Sub-Division. The physical geographical characteristics under the heads of characteristics of land, topography, geology, climate, surface drainage along with wet lands and climatic characteristics are described adequately as below:
3.1.1 CHARACTERISTICS OF LAND
Characteristically the area is a part of the wide riverine plain, which is green in their season with rice, and at other times patterned like a gigantic chess board by the low embankments which divide the fields, stretching unveils monotony to a horizon dotted with trees and villages (Peterson, 1910:5). The villages are situated on relatively higher ground and the area is characterized with great number of tanks which cover its surface. Thus the area resembles a mosaic of agricultural land, rivers and water bodies, orchards and settlements which are inter-connected with roads, most of which are unmetalled. In a number of places, there are evidences of severe riverbank erosion. One of the most important features of the area is the formation of new lands on the beds of the wide river channels which are actually the deposition of sediments carried by rivers. These are locally known as chars. The other most important characteristic of the land is the location of a number of bils or the abandoned courses of the rivers and paleo-channels (District Gazetteer, Barddhaman, 1994: 12).
A relatively narrow belt on the north-western part of the study area is situated above 20 m. of height above the mean sea level and most of the area lies below 20 m. In the north- west part, the topography is somewhat undulating due to an intricate system of head-ward eroding valleys. This is the part of Orgram plain (District Gazetteer, Barddhaman, 1994: 17) which occurs on the north- south tending belt bounded in the east by the Kunur flood plain. The area east of the 20 m. contour line is a part of Kusumgram plain covering larger part of the study area including Manteswar and Mongolkot C D Blocks. East and southeast of the Kusumsgram plain occurs the younger Katoya and Kalana plain at a lower level varying between 24 m. and 7.5 m above mean sea level. The whole area slopes west to east, whereas the eastern margin of the area slopes from north to south, with average gradient of only 4 ft / mile (Peterson, 1910: 3; District Gazetteer, Barddhaman, 1994: 10). (Map No.-4)
The study area is essentially a depositional plain with very little variation in relief. As a whole, the district is varied with its tectonic elements and riverine features and is a ‘transitional zone’ between Bihar plateau which constitutes a portion of peninsular shield in the west and Ganga-Brmhaputra alluvial plain in the north-east (District Gazetteer, Barddhaman, 1994:15-16). The two major structural features of the Bengal Basin found in Barddhaman district are: (i) the basin-margin scarp-fault zone of shallow basement rocks and a system of en-echelon scarps and faults which are normal down to the basin strike-fault, and (ii) shelf-zone, characterized by regional homoclinal dip and gradual thickening of the tertiary sediments. The eastern part of this zone is marked by a long trend of normal faults running through Murshidabad in the north to Hugli in the south (District Gazetteer, Barddhaman 1994: 17-18) crossing the study area. Further east, the structural features are completely absent. The stable shelf-zone covers the whole Kalna Sub-Division. The whole of the study area is covered by a great depth of alluvium. The deposits which covers the immense alluvial plain of the Ganges and its tributaries belong, mainly, to an older alluvial formation, which is usually composed of massive argillaceous belts of a rather pale reddish brown hue often weathering yellowish, disseminated throughout which occur kankar and mesolithic ferruginous concretions (Peterson, 1910:11-16).
3.1.4. SOIL CHARACTERISTICS
The soil is partly clay loams, more or less alter, and partly red-colored coarse grained sand, characteristic of the eastern range of the Bindhyan formation, large surfaces composed of which are found in the beds of the Ajoy river (Peterson, 1910:19). In general, the soils of the study area are mostly alluvium and are classified into two different types: (i) Low terrace alluvials—lying within the limits of low-floods, are immature sandy soils of yellowish brown colour; and, (ii) High terrace alluvials – lying within the limits of high-floods, are mature, moderately drained, brownish in colour, sandy to clayey loam in texture. Old alluvium may be termed as very high terrace alluvials located above the recent alluvium. They are mature, highly bleached, well drained soils of moderately acidic reaction. Marsh and meadow soils occur along the marshy courses of the rivers and their tributaries, wherever the drainage is impeded. These soils are poorly drained (water-logging is common) and have fine to moderately fine textures. Greater portion of the study area consists of materials transported by mountain streams having their origin in the hills and plateau area and pouring their waters in to the Hugli river (District Gazetteer, Barddhaman, 1994:19-21).
Natural vegetation in the area is very scanty. The north-western part of the study area has some remnants of old dry deciduous forest to be recognized with some relics of pure stands of Sal (Shorea robusta). Scattered stands of Bot (Ficus Benghalensis), Pipal (Ficus religiosa), Neem (Azadirachta indica), Shimul (Salmalia malabarica), Tal (Borassas flabelifera) and Khejur (Phoenix dactylifera) are seen. The common aquatic and marsh weeds found in the bils and swamps in the eastern part of the study area are: Keshe (Saccurum spentaneum), Bena (Andropogon squarrrosus), Pata-sola (Vallisneria spiralis), Jhangi (hydrilla verticillata), Pond weed (Potamogeten indicus), Pana (Lemna pacicostata), water hyacinth (Eichornia crassipes) and Padma (Nelumbium speciosum). Bans (Bambusa arundinacea) are found as clumps in every village and along some parts of the river banks. Am (Mangifera indica), Kanthal (Artocarpus integrifolia) and Narikel (Cocos nucifera) are grown in village orchard plots.
In general, the study area is located under the tropical monsoon climatic regime with alternative dry and wet periods (Peterson, 1910:21-22). Proximity of the Bay of Bengal and the lie of surrounding lands are the chief determinants of the climate of the area under review as well as the plains of West Bengal and as such, the climate of Bardhaman district including the study area hardly differs from the overall humid meso-thermal climatic pattern. The district experiences a climate which is transitional between CWg3 and AW, types, where ‘C’ stands for ‘warm temperate rainy climate with mild winter’, ‘W’ for ‘dry winter’ not compensated for by total rain in the rest of the year, ‘g3’ for ‘eastern Ganges type of temperature trend, maximum before the summer rainy season’ and ‘AW1’ for ‘tropical savanna climate, hot in all seasons but moderately comfortable with only 10° to 20°F annual range of temperature and 5 per cent to 50 per cent annual variability of precipitation’. The modified Gangetic monsoon climate in the study area is characterized by moderate temperature (due to the nearness of the bay) with cold weather means around 9° C and hot weather means between 25° C and 35° C. Another characteristic is oppressively high relative humidity all the year around especially from the middle of May to mid- October and moderate precipitation during the monsoon approximating to the Savannah climate (District Gazetteer, Barddhaman, 1994:49-54)
The cold season starts from about the middle of November and continues till the end of February. March to May is dry summer intervened by tropical cyclones and storms, which although infrequent, are notable features of the weather and climate of the area. June to September is wet summer while October and November is autumn, which again is visited by post-monsoon cyclonic storms. On the average 3 or 4 severer cyclones may be expected in the pre- monsoon and 2 or 3 on the post-monsoon periods.
Weather and climate is a complex manifestation of air mass properties which change from season to season. From mid-April to mid-June a tropical maritime air mass overlain by a tropical continental air mass develops unstable weather conditions causing sudden thunder squalls, widespread heavy rain and high winds. These are the nor’westers, called as Kalbaishakhi as its Bengali equivalent. Most of them strike from the higher plateau in the North West with speed of 65 to 100 km per hour and a speed of even 320 km per hour is also not infrequent. Rainfall averaging from 10 mm. to 50 mm. at times and a consequent fall of temperature by 10°F to 20° F are resulted which brings in sudden relief from scorching heat. They generally burst during afternoon and dusk and are extremely local phenomenon. Heralding summer’s advance, the tropical air mass gradually begins to play a dominant role, to be invaded subsequently by the equatorial maritime air mass coinciding with the onset of the monsoon. The grip of the homogenous equatorial air mass lowers diurnal ranges of temperature and brings about cloudy to completely overcast sky and frequent rain or drizzle (District Gazetteer, Barddhaman, 1994:55-59).
Out of the selected 10 CD Blocks, Kalna I, Katoya I, Mongolkot and Manteswar have rain measuring stations. Available figures in the distribution of rainfall are thus inadequate for giving a sufficiently clear picture on the Block-wise distribution of rainfall in the area under study. However, Table-2 (Appendix) will speak about annual distribution of rainfall in the area. The average annual rainfall in the district is 1350.7 mm. (53.18ʺ). The rainfall during the monsoon months (June to September) constitutes about 75per cent of the annual rainfall. The variation in the rainfall from year to year is not large. In the 100 year period (1901-2002), the highest annual rainfall amounting to 145 per cent of the normal occurred in 1971, while 1966 was the year of lowest rainfall being 69 per cent of the normal. In the 100 year period rainfall less than 80 per cent of the normal occurred in several years, some of them being consecutive. Considering individual stations rainfall less than 80 per cent of the normal occurred in 3 consecutive years only once at Manteswar. It will be seen from Table 2 (Appendix-1) that the annual rainfall in the district ranges between 995.2mm to 2178.8mm in last 50 years.(Fig.- 2)
Source: Indian Meteorological Department, 2005
3.1.7 SURFACE DRAINAGE CHARACTERISTICS
The principal rivers of the study area are the Bhagirathi-Hugli in the east, the Ajoy, the Babla and its tributary Kandar in the north, all flowing from west to east. Khari, Brahmani and Banka flow from west to east and south-east which are actually the tributaries of Bhagirathi. The courses of the rivers and their role in the physical environment and flood hazards of the area may be stated in brief. (Map No.- 5)
Map No.- 5
The Ajay rises in the Monghyr district of Bihar where low hills (300-360 m.) form the watershed located between the south-east flowing Ajay and the north flowing Ghhatini and the Matihara. The divide separating the Ajay from the Barakar in the west and from the Damodar on the east is equally low. The larger tributaries, the Pathro and the Jainti in the Santhal Parganas and the Tumuni and Kunur in the Bardhaman district, join the Ajay in its right bank. Owing to extensive soil erosion in its upper reaches, the Ajay carries down enormous load of coarse sands which are deposited in its narrow flood plains, making the agricultural land infertile and causing annual flood in its lower reaches located in the study area. It flows east in a meandering channel through Katoya Sub-Division forming the boundary between the Police Stations of Mongolkot and Ketugram, and Ketugram and Katoya until it joins the Bhagirathi above Katoya town (Peterson, 1910: 4-13).
Ajay plays a vital role in the contribution of the flood of the area as it is a torrential stream and floods quickly. Its actual discharge into the Bhagirathi is variable and largely influenced by the level of the latter river which, if high, heads back the supply. The name Ajay is either derived from Ajavati or is just A-jaya which literally means ‘unconquered’ (District Gazetteer, Barddhaman, 1994:85-88) signifying that its seasonal flood activity could not be controlled.
The Kunur takes its rise in mouza Bansgara at an altitude of 120 m. immediately to the west of Ichhapur (87° 16ʹ E, 23ʹ° 37ʹ N) and flows in a generally south easterly direction. In its lower reaches Kunur valley is susceptible to flood when the level of Ajay raises and the Kunur fails to discharge in to the Ajay and due to back–pressure, inundates its entire flood plain (Peterson, 1910:10).
The Tumuni rises from a place near Haripur (87° 12ʹ E, 23° 41ʹ N) and flowing east parallel to the Ajay, receives from the south several small tributaries of which only Itakhala nala (creaks) is worth mentioning. The Tumuni also is non-perennial and her lower reaches are very much flood prone.
From the historical background of the physical development of the area covering the valley of the Khari, Banka and Behula, it is clear that these streams are either parts of the previously used channels of the Damodar or its upper deltaic distributaries now severed from the main channel. Whichever they may be, it is certain that formerly they had huge catchment area in the Chotanagpur plateau. The natural development of deltaic land had been cut short and the region has been deprived of annual silt dressings. Now the beheaded streams have been left to carve and level the previously deposited stretch of alluvial land. They have cut deep into the alluvial deposited by themselves in the past. The salient features of these beheaded streams are: firstly, the diminishing water supply due to beheading resulted in the development of extra-ordinary meanders according to the laws of hydrodynamics. The meanders are very well developed in every stream in this region and secondly, the rivers had to entrench themselves in their own alluvium, and this they have done in their meandering forms, thus creating an impression of incised meanders. The Khari rises in a furrow north of Mankar (87° 34ʹ E, 23° 26ʹ N) and after crossing the Damodar Branch Cannal which runs parallel to the Eastern Railway main line. Within a mile of this insignificant course the channel takes the form, not of a conduit collecting the waters of adjoining paddy fields but a wide and deep valley which bears all the appearance of having once been the channel of a great river and this part within the study area is marked as flood prone (District Gazetteer, Barddhaman, 1994: 16).
The source of Behula is within a kilometer from the point where the Banka changes its direction from east to north-east. The Gangur takes off from Eden Canal south of Rasulpur and flows east across Memari. These two non-perennial streams have not only been beheaded but their channels have been sliced-off at various points for extension of agriculture and roads. In addition, there are several abandoned channels parallel to both the rivers which have formed complicated drainage pattern along with oxbow lakes and bils or elongated wetlands.
As a small river, the Brahmani originates from small tanks at 24.4 m. above sea level in Mangolkot Block and flows north-east. She receives on her left bank the Khandeswari nala (creak) which originates from the rice fields around Shyambati (87° 59ʹ E, 23° 34ʹ N), crosses the Barddhaman-Katoya road and railway and on entering Katoya Police Station flows east. Another branch, known in the same name, rises in little north-west of Shrikhanda and flowing south-west joins the main channel in a flood-prone area west of Nandigram in Katoya Police Station. Flowing further east the Brahmani divides itself into two branches, both of which flow south. The more easterly branch, which used to be the main channel, carries some water only during the rains and joins the Khari at mouza Haldipara. The other branch known as the Karulia river traverses swamps before debouching into the Khari at Multi Krishnanagar on the boundary between Katoya and Monteswar Police Stations. The Brahmani used to discharge into the Bhagirathi at Dainhat and then opposite Agradwip, where the old channel, now known as the Sainikhal demarcates Katoya from Kalna. In this area, numerous bils and swamps bear evidence of this dislocation of drainage due to the rapid building up of the Bhagirathi delta south-west (District Gazetteer, Barddhaman, 1994:17).
The Babla, also known as Dwaraka, has a course of only 3 km. within the area, but holds enough importance in hydrodynamics. It enters the area at 88° 12ʹ E and 23° 46ʹ N and discharges into the Bhagirathi at Bishnupur (88° 11ʹ 30ʺ E, 23° 44ʹ N). At the extreme north of the district, the Koiya nala is a spill channel. The area in between the Koiya and the Ajay is drained by the non-perennial Kandar khal (creak). Several Kandar nalas originating from Birbhum enter the Ketugram Police Station, of those, one flows south-east, another east and two others north-east. In between Srirampur and Kulai, approximately along 88° 00ʹ E these channels combine and encircle an absolutely flat but low saucer-shaped depression. From this depression again two channels of Kandar nalas flow east and combine west of Ambalgram railway station. The combined stream, known as the Kandar khal, flows north-east and after crossing Ahmadpur- Katoya and Bandel- Barharoa railway lines, turns south-east and finally south along the Suri-Katoya road and meets the Ajay near its outfall into the Bhagirathi. During floods, it overflows the Suri-Katoya road. It appears from the low pockets along the Kandar nalas and the Kandar khals that these are artificial drainage channels excavated to divert flood water.
The Bhagirathi is the principal river in the study area and is the life line as it is related with the economy and culture of the area. It is also known as ‘Ganga’ in Malda and murshidabad districts, Bhagirathi in Nadia and in the study area along the border of Barddhaman district and then to the Bay of Bengal it is known as Hugli river. The name Bhagirathi has a link with God Bhagirath of Hindu mythology. It receives water from all the rivers flowing from west. The Bhagirathi receives upland discharge only for three months—July to September—in a year and the rest of the period it is maintained by the tidal activity which reaches up to Swarupganj, 160 nautical miles upstream from the sea. Being almost outside of the tidal influence, the Bhagirathi channel in the study area has not developed mid-channel islands or large sand bars which are so prominent in the lower reaches. Instead, it has developed point bars on the convex portions of the river bank. The surface of these sand bodies shows abundant dunes and ripples. The point bar at Kalna, located almost at the fringe of the tidal reach, is a crescent-shaped sand body. On its inner side, the bar slopes gently into a steep mud-bank and is considerably covered with plants. The point bar at Katoya is located beyond the tidal influence of the river and on its eastern bank near the confluence with the Ajay the point bar is sparsely covered with plants.
The rivers described above have been generally grouped into two: (i) the rivers and their tributaries coming from the relatively upper western part of the study area and carry huge sands and silts and deposit them in the flat eastern and southern part. Thus they are recognized as ‘top-dressing rivers’ which have great role in the gradual aggradations of the flat plain of the basin, and (ii) the rivers which are influenced by tidal surges, the Bhagirathi itself and the spill channels close to Bhagirathi, are termed as ‘plinth rivers’. The spill channels, if face insufficient supply of fresh spill water, gradually experience degeneration.
In this context, the main characteristics of the rivers of the area under review can be stated as below:
The rivers originating in the western uplands flowing through the western part of the study area are comparatively swift flowing as they come from up-slopes;
These rivers are non-perennial and become most active in the rainy season;
During rainy season, they flow with maximum discharge and inundate wide areas of their flood plains;
Low magnitude flood from these rivers are more frequent in occurrence than high or severe floods;
Floods from these rivers are not always disastrous but can invite afflictions for the low-lying areas wherefrom people may have to be shifted for a period until the flood water retreats;
These rivers carry huge amount of sediment loads which raise the height of the river beds with deposition, choke the channels and retards the water carrying capacity;
During their flow through the flat, gently slope plains, they become sinuous, gradually the curved parts cut-off from the main course and form oxbow lakes which with time remain as water bodies locally known as bills;
The rivers in places have been sliced off for construction of roads, narrowed down for construction of bridges for railway lines and highways which have imparted obstacles to the free flow of the rivers;
In many places, the courses of a number of rivers and their tributaries have been willfully diverted with construction of cross dams which check the natural flow and water overspills at first from these points;
The major river Bhagirathi is characteristically perennial, but carries more water during the rainy season, July to September, when it receives upland discharges and both the water and sediment load is increased;
During their flow through the flat plain areas formed of previous deposition, many parts of their courses experience severe bank erosion.
All these rivers have certain place in the social and cultural milieu of the inhabitants beyond their mere physical identity.
3.1.8 CHARECTERSTICS OF WET LANDS
Wetlands represent the diverse group of wet natural environments usually found at the interface between land and water. As defined by US Fish and Wild life Service (USFWS) ‘Wetlands are lands, transitional between terrestrial and aquatic systems where the water table is usually at or near the surface or the land is covered by shallow water’. The Organization has emphasized three attributes for their categorization: (i) at least periodically, the land supports predominantly hydrophytes; (ii) the substrate is predominantly un-drained hydric soil and; (iii) the substrate is non-soil and is saturated with water or covered by shallow water at some time during the growing season of each year. In addition, according the Organization, wetland are first identified as a ‘system’, and the term system represents a complex of wetland and deepwater habitat that share the influence of similar hydrologic, geomorphologic, chemical or biological factors.
Among the wetlands of the area, the bils are of natural origin, in some places they are the parts of the deranged rivers or the abandoned courses of rivers known as paleo-channels and some of them are saucer-shaped low laying depression areas which receive water from either its surrounding catchment areas or spilled water from the nearby rivers. Hence, all of them are of natural origin where water exists for the year round, though the volume is remarkably decreased during the dry period both for intense transpiration of hydrophytes, direct evaporation and in recent years, due to lift irrigation through different methods. The other water bodies, such as the large tanks and ponds, are also designated as wetlands because of their sound presence of water with considerable width and depth, but they are artificially made or excavated purposefully. Among the natural wetlands, the bils have very important role in flood control and irrigation. The tanks and ponds have similar importance in the supply of water for seasonal irrigation and domestic use. Tanks of considerable size are found all over the study area and in some places they are overgrown with weeds, water hyacinth, filled up with silts and having the signs of eutrophication, but still, they play key role in irrigation for double cropped areas. Water from them is lifted by small canoes, recently fuel powered pumps are being used by the people for the same purpose.
As the study area is a prematurely reclaimed deltaic tract, there occur numerous debased pockets. The most important depressions are the Purbasthali swamps formed by the changed courses of the Bhagirathi and its tributaries. There are numerous marshes located between the rivers Khari and Banka. A number of oxbow lakes and bils occur along the river Ajay. The Baruli bil (87° 32ʹ E, 23° 35ʹ N) to the east of the Kaksa-Ilambazar road is due to derangement of drainage lines. In Manteswar, Mongolkot and Kalna I and II Blocks, there are numerous water bodies of similar origin. The following table (Table-3, Appendix) will show the classification of the wetlands of the area according to their origin and their location in different Blocks (Map No.-6). The wetlands of the area stated above may be considered as inseparable part of the whole landscape and functioning units of the whole ecological system as they are active as open-systems in terms of input and output of matter and energy. In some cases, washing out of deep soil cover of a considerable extent by severe floods have given origin of some wetlands.
These wetlands have important values both in the local ecology and in the life and economy of a large number of people inhabiting on their periphery. The fishing community of the area, with their age-old tradition, is habituated to harvest a verity of fishes from these wetlands. These wetlands are the principal sources of subsistence of the community for which they may be recognized as an ‘ecosystem community’ dependent upon the wetland ecosystem. On the other hand, these wetlands may be considered, in ecological sense, the ‘biodiversity hot spot’, where both the life forms of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystem coexist. This ecosystem has a direct and determinant role in the food chain and food web of the concerned area. One of the most important roles they play is the role of water reservoir, act as reservoirs for flood control by accommodating huge volume of spilled water. Sometimes they act as units of resource process and ultimately the supplier of matter and energy in the form of water, fishes and humus. These wetlands need annual dredging which may, to a larger extent, abate flood hazard and can diminish the flood risk.
The biotic community of the wetlands undergoes changes from aquatic or marshy to mesophytic types. These are complex hydrological and biogeochemical systems and have been recognized as distinctly separate ecosystems between the terrestrial and aquatic ones. Wetlands provide suitable habitats for fish, water resort for variety of birds for shelter and feeding. Besides, being a very good source of food, fodder and other important biological products, they also harbour a vast array of animals, birds, reptiles, fishes and other water fauna of great economic, bio-aesthetic and scientific importance. Wetlands also play a great role in flood control, treatment of waste water, and reduction of sediment load, production of organic material, pollution abatement etc. The most important characteristics of the wetlands of the area are their distinct function and values considered as Wetland Evaluation Techniques (WET). These are: (i) recharge and discharge of ground water, (ii) trapping of sediment, (iii) retention and removal of nutrients and pollutants, (iv) food chain support, (v) fisheries habitat, (vi) wild life habitat and human life support, (vii) recreations and heritage value, (viii) harvest of natural products, (ix) modification of micro climate, (x) educational and aesthetic values, (xi) protection from storm as wind break, (xi) storage of flood water, and (xii) source of irrigation in the time of need. It may be noted that not all individual wetlands support all these functions and values, in our case, they are potential forces of flood control.
Nowadays, in the study area, a large number of wetlands are facing the threat of conversion to agricultural, residential and constructional extensions. Conversion or transformation of wetlands is responsible for prolongation and areal extension of annual floods as well as biodiversity depletion. Due to lack of suitable management plan, fresh water from these wetlands is mostly used by farmers on a sub-optimal level to irrigate agricultural lands. On contrary, this type of use of wetlands has accelerated the pace of conversion with significant loss in their size and water holding capacity.
Embankment or impediment on the rivers in a flood plain is primarily made for flood control. The principal rivers of the area like Bhagirathi, Ajay, Babla and Brahmani had their embankments by the local governments from considerable past. The technology of raising the height of the banks with earthen elongation is old enough. As the gradient of the channel bed in the flood plain is very low, the velocity of the water also becomes slow and the flood water has general tendency to inundate with spilling over a considerable tract. As embankment with bricks was costly enough, available sands and silts were heaped up along the banks which were very much susceptible to become soluble and eroded easily by flood water and even some of the new embankments had to repair in every year. In some cases, like Ajay, it was very hard to keep and maintain the embankments which were further washed out with the quick floods occurred almost annually. That is why a continuous embankment throughout the banks of the rivers are not evident but in places of the flood plains the natural deposition of silts during flood has increased the height of the banks, forming natural levee, but simultaneously increased the height of the river bed as well with increasing the probability of the flood events. As a result, the spilled over water could not be released to the channels. Slowly, the water covered a wider tract of the plain causing flood of long duration. The Bhagirathi embankment have been in existence for a considerable number of years and in the circumstances, the rising flood levels in some years cannot be ascribed solely to them. However, as there seems to be no evidence that the Ganges flood levels have been raised correspondingly, the elevation must be attributed, at least in part, to rising of bed levels through natural deterioration and the silt load brought down by the western tributaries. Whereas, the embankments and reservoirs serve as the main remedy against the floods of the torrential plateau streams, improvement of the convergence capacity of the Bhagirathi channel has long been deemed as the only solution (District Gazetteer, Barddhaman, 1994: 508).It is worthwhile to maintain that marginal embankments could not be a solution to the problem of flooding by the Bhagirathi as floods in the Bhagirathi basin are mainly due to spilling of the banks along with severe river bank erosion.
3.3.0 AGRICULTURAL CHARECTERISTICS
Agriculture is the primary source of livelihood in the rural parts of the study area where above 76 per cent of the total population depends upon agricultural activities. Even after six decades of Independence, agriculture provides about 80 per cent of rural employment (Census, 2001). Agriculturally the study area is one of the important parts of the Barddhaman district as well as the southern Bengal itself. The fertile agricultural plots are distributed in between the rivers or within the interfluves. With regular rain in monsoon period and suitable and timely irrigation facilities, the area is endowed with very high agricultural opportunities. Agriculture in the area occupies an important place in rural economy because it does not only provide food grains to the people but also several raw materials to numerous agro-based industries such as jute. The whole area is one of the most fertile areas of the state. For the last four decades, with the introduction of Green Revolution from the 1970s, the agriculture has shifted from subsistence to commercial agriculture and larger tracts has been changed into double even tripple cropping lands which were mainly mono cropping before the period. It has directly exerted pressure on the demand of water supply and this has encouraged extraction of huge amount of subsurface water with shallow and deep tube wells. The agricultural development of the study area has been dependent upon the utilization of High Yielding Verity (HYV) of seeds, mainly of paddy and application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, of which the last two have greater role in the pollution of surface water. From 1961 onwards, the number of total agricultural labourers in almost all the Blocks of the area have been gradually increased which will be explained in the subsequent subchapters.
Bardhaman is the only district in this state that is fortunate in having both industry and agriculture. On an average, about 76 per cent of the total population is engaged in agricultural sector while the non-agricultural sector accounts for the remaining 24 per cent (Census, 2001). The eastern, northern, southern and central areas of the district are extensively cultivated but the soil of the western portion being of extreme lateritic type, is unfit for cultivation except the narrow valleys and depressions heaving rich soil and good moisture. The cultivation in the district has improved since 1953 with the implementation of the irrigation projects undertaken by the Damodar Valley Corporation and the Intensive Agricultural District Program, commonly known as the Package Program. Up to 1953, ciultivation was entirely dependent on the monsoon, and irrigation facilities were rather inadequate and more or less primitive. The position has since been changed and an alround agricultural development has become possible. Though agriculture is largely regulated by the rainfall as in the other district of this state, the developed irrigation system has been very helpful in minimizing the effects of the vagarious of nature. After 1953, tillage became almost a certainty in most parts of the district, cropped area varied from year to year under the changing weather condition and by double cropping. Besides, each year more and more of waste land is being reclaimed for agriculture and other purposes such as roads, buildings, irrigation channels, tanks, hospital, schools and various other constructions. Use other than agriculture are also taking up more and more of land every year and availability of land is decreasing. Wherever available, lands are being utilized for various construction purposes. This is why emphasis has been laid mainly on intensive cultivation in recent years.
It has already been stated that the pressure on land is very high and thus, each year some waste lands are being reclaimed for agriculture and other purposes. With increasing irrigation schemes, more and more thirsty lands are getting irrigation facilities. On the other hand, owing to rapid industrialization and pressing demand for cultivable land, the area under forest is gradually decreasing and consequently it has produced an adverse effect on agriculture and climate of the district. Taking the district as a whole the area under culturable waste has decreased during the last two decades. In the settlement report of 1927-28 the area under cultivable west was 265913 acres and under uncultivable waste 301995 acres. According to the Ishaque Report of 1944 – 45, 61116 acres were current fallow, 188835 acres were cultivable waste and 314426 acres were uncultivable (Census, 1951).
In the Katoya and Kalna Sub-Division numerous swamps commonly known as bils are existent where water remains present almost throughout the year. The most extensive of all such marshes lie on the right bank of the Bhagirathi and have been caused by the oscillations of that river. Even the smaller internal rivers and streams are very often embanked for purpose of irrigation causing, in most cases, obstruction to the natural drainage. Presently, the peripheral and marginal parts of the larger bils are also being reclaimed haphazardly for cultivation.
The major and subsidiary crops grown in the study area are rice, wheat, sugarcane, potato, jute, mustard, lean seed, pulses, fruits and vegetables. Among these crops, the most important is rice. The rice with its numerous varieties can be broadly grouped under the three primary classes distinguished from one another by distinct characteristics and these are: the Aus or autumn, the Aman or winter and the Boro or summer rice. Rice covers about 86 per cent of the gross cropped area. Among the commercial crops, the most important are jute, mesta, (a type of fiber crop), and sugar cane. Nowadays, extensive cultivation of potato has become most important commercial crop. Among the rice, Aus is of coarse variety and is grown on the relatively highlands which require less water than the other two varieties. Recently, Aus is being replaced by a very short period variety of high yielding rice. This crop is generally cultivated in the eastern tracts of the study area adjoining the Bhagirathi. The Aman rice grows over an area larger than any other crop. It is generally cultivated on low lands with a clay soil and requires much more water than Aus, and hence it is cultivated in low lands which can accumulate water in rains and remain under water till the end of autumn. The growing season of this rice is very much adaptable with that of the monsoon rain. This variety of rice needs no irrigation if there is enough rainfall in the period, but sometimes irrigation is necessary during its growth and maturity. The finest rice belongs to this class. The Boro is coarse rice and is mainly of High Yielding Variety which needs more water, more fertilizer and more pesticides than any other two varieties just mentioned. It is grown on soft mud in the sides of rivers, canals and lakes. But recently, it is being cultivated widely with the facility of irrigation from sub-surface water and now the total agricultural landscape is dotted with shallow and deep tube well houses. The sides of the rivers, subject to strong tides are the most suitable places for growing this crop with making weirs or cross dams or bunds (Rudra, 2008: 79) on the small rivers or rivulets known as nalas, khals and kandars. In recent years, the Department of Agriculture of the district has introduced a number of good varieties of high yielding rice which have a higher yield and are most resistant to disease. Some flood withstanding varieties have also been introduced in flood-prone areas.
Jute in the study area still possesses an important place in the economy. The flowing water in the small rivers are much helpful as they provide the flow and clears up the fibers very cleanly giving a golden color which is sold by the farmer in relatively higher prices. The other facilities are that they are transported up to Kolkata and Hugli with country boats in lowest transport cost and sold in the jute industries located in the places mentioned.
Potato is cultivated now extensively in the area. The locality generally selected for cultivation of potato are the old beds of the rivers and best potato soil is a sandy loam having a very fine texture which is available in Manteswar, Ketugram, Mongolkot, Katoya, and Kalna I and II Blocks. Irrigation is a precondition for the cultivation of this crop and the lands need to be located near the canals, tanks, marshes or some other forms of sources of water. This crop is generally grown after autumn rice as a second crop, but a field which grows only potato gives better and much early crops which bring greater profit to the cultivator. After harvesting of Aman rice, extensive vacant lands are used for potato cultivation with the help of irrigation with sub-surface water.
Of the other crops, sugarcane, oilseed like mustard and linseeds and pulses are grown scatteredly. In recent years, the cultivation of wheat has become very popular and these crops are usually grown in some parts of the western Blocks of the study area. Cultivation of a variety of other winter crops including extensive cultivation of vegetables is important feature of the recent years.
3.4.0 LAND USE
The area under study is predominantly an agricultural one and most of the lands are used in agricultural purposes. The category of non-agricultural use is mainly the lands under water bodies, settlements and roads. In Ketugram-I and Katoya-II of Katoya Blocks of Katoya Sub-Division and Manteswar and Purbasthali-I Blocks of Kalona Sub-Divisions have considerable area under current fallow which is indicative of the lands affected by erosion and flood. Among the 10 Blocks, only Kalna-II and Manteswar Blocks of Kalna Sub-Division has considerable area under the category of culturable waste. The most striking feature of land use of the area that forest is completely absent and so is true for the land under the category of pasture and grazing land. This signifies the dominance of agricultural land in the land use pattern of the area. The following table (Table-4) and the map (Map No.-7) will help to understand the landuse pattern of the area.
Table - 4
Map No. - 7
Source: District Disaster Management and response Plan, 2007, Govt. of West Bengal.
The district had irrigation facilities and experiences from the remote past mainly in the form of tank irrigation as well as inundation canal irrigation from the rivers. After Independence, the area has experienced canal irrigation system mainly in the northern and southern part. The Damodar Valley Corporation has helped the southern part of the area to irrigate some areas with branch canals linked with the Left Bank Main Canal or Eden Canal started from the Durgapur Barrage as post- 1956 development. On the other hand, the Mayurakshi Project which mainly irrigates through canals the agricultural lands of the Birbhum district, has an extension of the branch canals which irrigate considerable vast areas of both the Katoya and Kalna Sub-Divisions where there are enough number of rivers, but all of them are non-perennial, and thus have low potentiality to provide irrigation in dry periods. But they have a role during the first rain to provide irrigation with their inundation canals and lift pumps. This is not less important. The same rivers and rivulets when become dry in the winter period, a series of weirs and cross-dams are made in strategic points from where whatever volume of water is available are diverted through small channels or by pumps to the agricultural fields for growing winter crops. But the major role in the field of irrigation in the area is played by large number of ponds, tanks, and bils stated earlier as wet lands. Tanks are located on relatively high ground from where water can come out to the lands by gravity. If the water level falls, the water level can be raised artificially and passed on to the field. Besides, the tanks through the process of percolation, keep the moisture level of the sub-soil fairly high. Recently, as almost all the Blocks of the study area are being benefitted from the Damoder Valley Corporation (DVC) and the Maurakhshi Project, the importance on the tank irrigation from the large water bodies has been decreased. But it has still its utility for small irrigation schemes as the canals do not serve the entire area of the district, and in reality, there are still isolated pockets in the study area where the major schemes can give little benefit owing to natural difficulties. Actually, the improved tanks and bils are still useful in areas suffering from supply of water to double crop areas where canal water is not supplied or is supplied once a year (Table-5).
Table - 5
Fig. - 3
Source: Project Report, Kharagpur IIT, 2005
For a variety of reasons, particularly the absence of irrigation facilities in the areas not served by any river valley project, deep tube wells play the role of an effective source of irrigation. Besides, from the 1980s there is abrupt development of setting shallow tube wells here and there to irrigate mainly the Boro rice and winter crops where there is very much scarcity of irrigation water from other sources. It has been evaluated by the people from different corners that without knowledge of recharge of ground water, the huge numbers of shallow tube wells have caused the lowering of sub surface layers of water and the depths of the bore-holes are being increased simultaneously to reach the layers. Lowering of subsurface layer has become evident in parts of Mongolkot and Monteswar Blocks (Fig.-3).
3.6.0 POPULATION CHARECTERISTICS
First general census for the district as a whole was taken in 1872. The Census of 1872 coincides with the peak of the terrible epidemic called the Burdwan Fever (District Gazetteer, Barddhaman, 1994: 100-102). The district Barddhaman was previously known as Burdwan. The Burdwan Fever ravaged the district between 1862 and 1874. The total population at that time was recorded 1486400 persons and average density of population was 213 persons per sq km. This information is being placed to understand the increment of population in the last Census of 2001; the story is almost similar for all the Blocks of the district including the study area. After 1872, the population continued to decline till 1874. The greatest single cause of decline was the Burdwan fever. Though the virulence of the fever was checked by the year 1875, the district remained subject to a remittent type of fever, malaria and cholera were endemic in Kalna and Katoya Sub-Divisions as a result of which the death rate remained higher than the rate of birth and immigration till 1991. The declining population between 1872 and 1891 was most noticeable in all parts of Katoya and Kalna Sub-Divisions. In fact, the natural growth in the area on an average accounted for only 3.8 per cent in that period while the rate of immigration over emigration accounted for more than the natural growth rate. There were new settlers in its sparsely populated rural parts of the study area. On the other hand, the towns of Katoya and Kalna have a steady decrease in population ever since the beginning of the Burdwan Fever and thereafter (Mitra, 1953: 11-48).
Map – 8 (a)
Map – 8 (b)
Map – 8 (c)
In the period of 1911 to 1921 all parts of the study area again suffered a decreasing population. This decrease was very sharp in Ketugram Police Station of Katoya Sub-Division and Purbasthali Police Station of Kalna Sub-Division. Repeated floods in Damodar and Ajay in 1913, 1916, 1917, 1918, 1919, 1920, and 1921 were partially responsible for the depletion of population (Ditrict Gazetteer, Barddhaman). As the whole area was affected by flood, the lowlands after flood events could remain water logged for a long time which became veritable breading grounds of malaria and influenza. In the decades under review these two diseases took a heavy toll on lives in the area. After 1921 the district began to show steady rate of population growth. From 1921 onwards, the demographic history of the area is a history of ever increased growth which rose to alarming proportion between 1951 and 1961. From around 1921-22 Public Health authorities began to take preventive measures against malaria by draining of waterlogged areas and establishing free dispensaries. Thus from 1921 onwards, the population did not increase steadily but the rate of growth increased from decade to decade at an alarming pace. [Map-8(a) to 8(e)]
Map – 8 (d)
Map – 8 (e)
The cumulative growth of population between 1931and 1941 amounted to 20.0 per cent over the population of 1931, or in other words, the rate of growth was 2 per cent per year. The Census of 1951 recorded a 15.09 per cent rise in population over what it was in 1941. This rise took place despite the effects of short-fall of agricultural production of 1941, cyclone and flood of October 1942, famine of 1953, cholera and other epidemics of 1943-44 and cyclone and flood of 1950. But it has been noticed that cyclone and flood of 1942 and 1950, famine of 1943 and the communal riots of 1946, however, did not cause much loss of life. The epidemic of 1943-44, on the other hand, had claimed a greater toll of lives in the study area. The communal riots of 1946 and the subsequent Partition of the country in 1947 brought in their wake streams of refugees to the area who even settled in the remote inaccessible water logged parts of the area. As per Census 1951, within the decade of 1951- 1961, the Kalna Sub-Division experienced a population increase by 36.10 per cent or by 3.61 per cent per year. On the other hand, Katoya Sub-Division experienced an increase of 35.50 percent in the same decade or 3.55 per cent increase of population per year. The following table may show decadal variation of population from 1961 to 2001. (Table-6; Fig.- 4)
Increment of Population from 1961 - 2001
Source: Census of India
Fig. - 4
Source: Census of India
An important characteristic of population is their occupational structure. The population data from 1961 to 2001 may be able to prove the rate of growth or decadal variation in the population of the 10 Blocks of the area under review. At the same time, the tables and the related bar graphs will speak themselves the increment or decrement per decade in the different types of occupations which may be considered as the distribution of population in different occupations and their decadal variation. The population density maps will show the distribution of population in different Census periods among the different Blocks. [Table-7(a) to 7(d) in Appendix; Fig.-5(a) to 5(d)]
Fig. – 5(a)
Source: Census 1961 and 1971
Source: Census 1991 and 2001
Along with the occupational groups, the population of the area has a religious composition, the majority of whom are the Hindu Caste people of which major portion is formed by the Ugra khatrias or Aguri of the Hindu Caste system. The other Castes are Brahmmins, Kaiasthas, and Sadgops. The next strata is formed by a considerable number of Scheduled Caste population including the Jelia Kaibarto (fishermen), Mahiswas, Namasudra, Suri etc. and a considerable number of population are composed of Baidyas, Teli, Gandhabanik,Tambulis, Subarnabanik, and Bhuias (Dalton, 1872: 237-76). According to religious composition, almost 30 per cent of the population belongs to Muslims and other religion followed by small percentage of population is Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, etc. A small part of the total population belongs to the Scheduled Tribe group (Table-8, Appendix).
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