The West Bengal government is planning to build at least four helipads in cyclone-prone Sundarbans for a more effective response to natural disasters such as floods and cyclones as well for the promotion of tourism, officials aware of the matter said. There are around 30 helipads in the state and plans were afoot for more.
“We received a proposal from the South 24 Parganas district authorities (for the helipads in the Sundarbans). Around a month back, the state public works department was asked to do a survey. It is in the planning stage,” said a state transport department official, who did not want to be named.
Officials said the need for helipads was felt most after the region was hit by three cyclones in as many years – Bulbul (November 2019), Amphan (May 2020) and Yaas (May 2021).
“The islands were badly hit, and river water gushed into the villages through breaches in the embankments. It took a lot of time to reach out to the victims on boats as the roads were damaged and inundated,” said an official in South 24 Parganas district, requesting anonymity.
The Sundarbans is the world’s largest mangrove delta spread across India and Bangladesh. The Indian part of the delta covers 102 islands including 54 inhabited ones. The rest have dense forest covers and are home to tigers. Boats are the lifeline for travel from one island to another.
Officials said helipads have been proposed for Gosaba, Patharpratima, Kakdwip, and Diamond Harbour, which were severely hit by the cyclones. “We are also receiving proposals from other districts too and they are under examination. The helipads can be used for any purpose apart from reaching out to victims during natural disasters. If they come up at the right place where tourists want to go, they can also be used for tourism,” said the transport department official. The official added the Centre is coming up with a heliport tourism policy and that the state was going to identify more places where helipads could be built to promote tourism in Bengal.
In 2019, the National Green Tribunal ordered an injunction on the construction of a helipad on Sagar Island in the Sundarbans after an environment activist alleged mangroves were being destroyed for it.
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