Livelihood Issues and Conflicts
The major part of coastal areas of West Bengal is rural in nature. Eastern part of the coast in the South 24 Parganas is mostly uninhabited due to the presence of dense mangrove forest. There is only one township (Haldia) located on the coast of West Bengal. The major activities of the coastal communities are rural in nature. These activities include agriculture, fishing, collection of minor forest produce in Sundarban, dairy and poultry development activities, small scale retail trading and service sector activities. In and around Haldia, many members of the coastal population are employed in the organized industries and in various trading activities or service oriented professions. In and around Digha, the local people are engaged in various professions related to tourism inclusive of the transport sector employment. Self employed rural artisans of various handicraft products are a small group having a difficult livelihood.
There are two livelihood issues that may lead to conflicts in coastal areas of West Bengal because of inevitable change that may be forthcoming. The first is between the choice of agriculture and aquaculture in the coastal areas. The real economic and employment potential of one in preference to the other are often obliterated by social and/or market forces. The average economic return from agriculture per unit area may be less than that from aquaculture, but agriculture can keep a relatively large number of people employed/engaged over at least half the year compared to the situation in case of aquaculture. The choice is tricky as a large rural population having no engagement/employment but with money is always a potent social problem. Secondly, there is considerable interest now created in the coastal areas especially on the western part of the state in terms of development of coast based core industries including siting of large petro-chemical hubs. If these initiatives are to be realized in some form or other, perhaps large coastal agricultural land is to be acquired. People although will be compensated with an one time payment but a large number of these people will loose their family-land and traditional livelihood. It is uncertain how many of the present generation of the population will get employment in the up-coming industries as new skill and entrepreneurship will be required in the industry and related opportunities in the service sector. These skills can not be acquired easily even with retraining facilities. A well researched ICZMP with in-built social engineering solutions may perhaps provide answers to these potent livelihood conflicts.