Vulnerability from Embankment Damage in Indian Sundarbans: Recent
Evidence from Cyclone Aila
Department of Economics
Lalbaba College, West Bengal
October 2009
South Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economics (SANDEE)
PO Box 8975, EPC 1056
Lathmandu, Nepal
SANDEE Working Paper (Draft Submitted to the 19th R & T)
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The Indian Sundarbans, lying south of Dampier-Hodges line, a habitat of 4.1 million
people is prone to natural hazards like cyclones and flood. In recent times the
incidence of cyclone Aila has inflicted enormous damage in this area in terms of loss
of lives and assets. Till date flood protection in Sundarbans against tidal surges had
been ensured by 3500 km long mud embankments erected since the colonial period.
In the aftermath of Aila policy dialogues are centered on structural measures to
strengthen the embankments but institutional reforms to ensure proper maintenance of
the embankments has not received much attention. By analyzing the community
institutions engaged in dyke maintenance in Sundarbans this paper attempts to fill this
gap by suggesting ways to ensure greater community participation in embankment
maintenance. This study identifies the factors that determine private expenditures
towards embankment maintenance in Sundarbans and the institutional arrangements
of………………………………………households in selected villages of two blocks
of Indian Sundarbans, Sandeshkhali II and Basanti that has been affected in the
recent catastrophe.
Keywords: public good, collective action, natural disaster
Vulnerability from Embankment Damage in Sundarbans: Recent Evidence after
Cyclone Aila
Prasenjit Sarkhel
1. Introduction
On 25th May, 2009 between 1330 to 1430 hours IST cyclone Aila made its landfall in
the Sagar islands in Sundarbans with a wind speed of 100 -110 km/hour causing
enormous damage to life and assets in West Bengal and Bangladesh. Almost .70
million people were affected and the economic damage were assessed to be around
.36 million (INR) with death tolls of over 300 in West Bengal. The damage from
disaster was most intense in Sundarbans part of West Bengal where almost 100000
people were rendered homeless and agricultural lands as well as aquaculture ponds
were submerged in saline water for days.
The damage in Sundarbans had been caused by breach and subsidence of the 3500 km
long embankments erected in the colonial period (Richard and Flint,1990) to protect
the cultivable lands from tidal ingress. The tidal surge fueled by Aila damaged almost
400 km of the existing dykes and the most immediate policy concern is the
reconstruction of the embankments along with relief and rescue operations. The
policy discourse focused entirely on the technological aspects of embankment
reconstruction and engineering aspects like embankments made out of concrete or
geo-textiles. At the same time the government is pondering over the modes of
acquisition of land that would be required for the reconstruction of the dykes1.
However, concern is expressed over the fact that a hefty sum of 600 million INR
would be required for the project of which only 100 million would come as grant in
aid from the Central Government.
It is clear that embankment restoration would involve a substantial fixed cost but there
are also issues of operating cost or cost of maintenance in the long run. Unless proper
institutional arrangements are developed for embankment maintenance the project
According to the Department of Irrigation and Waterways there should be a distance of 80-90 meters
between the river and the embankment where there would be tree cover (The Statesman, 15 June, 2009).
Thus, rebuilding of existing embankments would surely involve displacement of the existing habitats.
expenditures may turn into sunk cost threatening the sustainability of the Sundarbans
area. Public maintenance of the Sundarbans embankment is mostly carried out by the
Department of Irrigation and Waterways though its role in regular maintenance, apart
from major repair works, has been gradually phasing out in recent years. This
happened due to the active involvement of the local bodies i.e. Panchayats in dyke
patching through the funds available under the National Rural Employment Guarantee
Scheme (NREGS). At the same time community involvement in embankment
maintenance has varied in parts of Sundarbans according to pattern of land use,
geographical location as well as extent of public intervention in dyke protection.
Though paddy cultivation remained the dominant occupational pattern in Southern
part of Sundarbans2 in the Northern part, there has been large scale transformation of
paddy land to brackish water aquaculture farms3. For areas with large tracts of
aquaculture farms, Irrigation and Waterways are reluctant to carry out mud patching
as they think it is the onus of the fishery owners to take care of the embankments
because they are using the adjoining sluice gates or in some cases extracting saline
water by digging channels in public embankment structures. In response the
aquaculture farm owners have evolved different institutional arrangements to
contribute for the provisioning of the embankment in Sundarbans area. This
observation is particularly important in the background of Aila stricken Sundarbans as
paddy fields that have been inundated by saline flood waters have a high probability
of getting transformed into aquaculture ponds4. Thus, brackish water fishery farms are
likely to play a crucial role in the maintenance of the embankments especially in the
backdrop of increasing tendency of the government for devolving the management of
the embankments in the hands of communities. Identifying the determinants of private
expenditures and efforts towards embankment management would inform
policymakers about possible areas of intervention for strengthening community
capacity towards reducing vulnerability from embankment damage.
The trend of land use is changing towards fishery activities in this part also (See Chopra et. al., 2004; Knowler
Percentage utilization of the potential brackishwater area available in North 24 Parganas district is 30% as
against 17.14% in south 24 Parganas district.
Existence of fishery farms itself increases the salinity of the soils and may affect paddy cultivation resulting
thereby hastening the conversion process (Maheswari et. al. 2009).
2. River Embankments as Public Good: Provisioning of Embankments in
River embankments are a class of pure non excludable public goods and the benefits
of its flood protection accrue to all and sundry. However, this also falls in the
category of ‘weakest link public goods’ in that the total quantity available to each
consumer is equal to the smallest contribution of the individual (Hirshleifer, 1983,
1984). Thus, the least maintained part of the dyke determines the welfare of the whole
population. Cornes (1993) has shown that in case of these public goods heterogeneity
of individuals in terms of income and preference trigger movement away from
symmetric equilibrium and can result in under provision5. In such a situation there
exists a strong incentive for the individuals to search for alternative institutional forms
that would lead to Pareto improving allocation thereby gear Nash Equilibrium
towards the social optimum6.
This endogenous determination of institutional structure matches the situation
perfectly in those areas of Sundarbans where the transformations of land into fishery
ponds have attained maturity. There are three Irrigation Divisions that supervise the
river embankments in Sundarbans area: Joynagar Irrigation division (covering
roughly one third area of Sundarbans in the South 24 Parganas district including
blocks like Basanti, Gosaba Mathurapur I and II, Joynagar I and II ,Canning I and II
and parts of Patharpratima,Namkhana and Sagar),Kakdweep Irrigation division
(covering the rest of Sundarbans namely Namkhana ,Kakdweep,Patharpratima and
Sagar Block) while the whole of North 24 Pargana part of Sundarbans come under the
Basirhat Irrigation Subdivision. All the three irrigation offices confirmed that except
for emergency repairs they do not undertake any maintenance of the embankments
that bounds the fishery plots. At the same time regular maintenance for the
Sundarbans embankment has also been showing a falling trend since mid nineties
(See Figure 1). Though initiation of NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee
In the weaker link version of the problem the production function of the public good is given
is the total public good and
is the contribution of the jth individual. Utility
maximization subject to the budget constraint solves for q as a function of income and unit cost of provision.
Thus, individual contribution depends on the preference parameter , income of the individual and the cost of
provision and is likely to differ for heterogeneous agents.
See Cornes (1993, pp268-269).
Act) have actually devolved the right of embankment management on the community
institution it would not be correct to link it with the gradual phasing out of
government’s involvement in the management of river embankments in the
Sundarban area. For one thing implementation of NREGA in West Bengal began in
late 2006 while expenditures on regular maintenance of embankments has been
falling sharply almost ten years before that. Moreover NREGS fund has other
competing uses and only part of it is used for embankment maintenance7.
The maintenance work by Panchayats is supposedly designed taking into account the
historical shocks of embankment breaches from tidal ingress in Sundarbans. Shocks
of larger magnitude like Aila were unprecedented and it precisely tore apart the
vulnerable points that were already identified under NREGA scheme. Data regarding
embankment damage (as length of embankments that subsided or were breached) was
available for 70 Gram panchayats (GP) for 10 blocks of Sunadarbans in South 24
Parganas under the Jaynagar Irrigation division for the post Aila period. To
investigate whether flood control works under NREGA had any impact in minimizing
the damage, data regarding number of flood control works, labour expenditure and
expenditure were gathered for the pre-Aila period i.e. 2008-09. To normalize the data,
the damage length (EMD) was expressed in terms of the total area of the GP8 and the
expenditure on flood control works is divided by the number of works undertaken
(NREWK). Further, since land use is supposed determine the extent of public
expenditure on embankments proportion of area not under cultivation (ANCL) is also
included as an explanatory variable. This is supposed to capture whether there were
damage differentials in predominantly fishery and non-fishery areas. To proxy for
dependence on land the proportion of literates (PLI) among the total population is also
included as an explanatory factor. Higher educational levels are supposed to cause
outmigration in cities or engagement in non-farm employment thereby reducing
commitment on the provision of resources for embankment conservation. The
descriptive statistics of the variables are presented in Table 1. On an average in these
10 GP’s the length of embankment damaged is around 7 km the maximum damage
Other than flood control expenditures the fund under the NREGA is also used for rural connectivity,water
conservation and water harvesting,renovation of traditional water bodies,drought proofing,Irrigation canals and
provison of irrigation facilities to disadvantaged groups and land development.
Ideally the dependent variable should have been expressed as the proportion of embankment damage in the
GP’s. Unfortunately, the total length of the embankments at the village level is not available with the Irrigation
Department so it was proxied by the total area of the GP.
being done at Gosaba. Among the blocks Kulatli records the highest amount of
NREGA expenditure per work in the pre-aila period but also have an above average
breach figure for the 10 GP’s included in analysis. To understand the causal
relationship better the following lin-log regression equation is then estimated9:
Note that in addition to the variables described block dummies were inserted in (1) to
account for unobserved area specific characteristics. Table 2 reports the regression
The regression results show that both NREGA work and education variable is directly
related to the extent of embankment damage though the latter is not significant. The
proxy for land use shows a negative sign but is statistically insignificant confirming
the fact that Aila comprises of a systematic shock and its effect has spread in all areas.
Among the block dummies those for Canning I and II were dropped from the final
regression as they were statistically insignificant and this improved the model fit.
Taking Basanti as the base the coefficients on block dummies reveal that only
Panchayats in Gosaba recorded a higher than average breach in embankments. The
result on NREGA needs cautious interpretation and at least it should not be taken as
an indicator of the programme failure. Rather it points to the fact that NREGA
targeting was proper in the sense that it was undertaken in vulnerable areas but only
that it was not designed to take into account such low probability high consequence
events. As such this phenomenon is not particular to West Bengal per se. Analyzing
district level data in terms of flood intensity and area protected Gupta et. al. (2003)
also finds the inadequacy of structural modes of flood protection like embankment
strengthening in India. However, they did not use the actual subsidence and breach
data and their analysis is much more aggregate at the district level.
Even in its implementation period the proportion of fund in NREGS devolved for
flood control projects varied across villages. Like the Department of Irrigation and
Several other specifications like log-log log-lin was tried but the reported equation provided the best fit. The
Cooks-Weisberg test for Heteroskedasticity rejected the Null Hypothesis of constant variance at less than 5
percent level of significance. The reported estimates are White Heteroskedasticity corrected standard errors.
Waterways, scant investment in flood control projects took place in the brackish water
fishery prone villages. In the post Aila situation precisely in these areas flood control
investments were stepped up at a large scale. For instance, in case of Sandeshkhali-II
block out of 8 GP’s flood control projects were undertaken during 2008-2009 in 3
GP’s of which the maximum number of flood control projects took place in two GP’s
Khulna and Durgamondop that have no fishery activities at all and here agriculture is
the dominant occupation10.It must be noted in caveat that NREGA flood control
projects are demand driven where the Panchayats submits the work plan for the
project so lack of flood control works may also be due to other administrative aspects
that are not controlled for.
It can, however, be confirmed from the reports of the Irrigation Department that these
villages are not without incidence of embankment damages11. Mainly two types of
damage occur during the high tide periods during July to October: slip and subsidence
of the embankments and spilling of tidal waves over the embankments. If government
response to the potential collapse of the embankments is inadequate one possibility is
that village residents would organize and look after the resource either by pooling
their own resource or by creating pressures on the local government for immediate
3. Private participation in Embankment Conservation
3.1 Private contribution to public good: existing literature
The crucial determinants for collective action in local public good (such as
embankments) provision problem would be both the absolute level of wealth and
distribution of wealth (i.e. inequality), and the array of available exit options. For
people with wealth below the threshold level collective action possibilities are nil
( Here, a transfer from contributor to the noncontributing agent
(i.e. those having lower asset holdings) may be useful on normative grounds but may
A total of 8 flood control projects were finalized out of which both Khulna and Durgamondop are to have 3
projects each and Bemajur I that has both fishery and agriculture would have only 1 project. However, other
principally fishery dominated GP’s like Bermajur II, Atapur and Sandeshkhali did not have any projects at all.
The most recent one in the pre Aila period occurred on 17 September,2008
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actually reduce the overall provision of public goods (Baland and Platteau, 2003)12. In
the specific context of coastal embankments in Goa, Mukhopadhay (2005) precisely
obtains this result. An otherwise egalitarian land transfer has resulted in lesser interest
of traditional groups of big landholders for embankment maintenance providing
disincentives for collective action. If the fixed cost of such infrastructure related
public good is high and the benefit shares of all agents falls short of the threshold that
is required for the public good to yield any benefit then there would be no voluntary
investment. This Nash equilibrium corresponds to the phenomenon of co-ordination
failure (Baland and Platteau, 2003). However, if the per unit cost of conservation is
lower compared to the benefit accrued to the wealthier household such that their
contribution is assured, small asset holders shall join suit if free riding benefits are
low and the relative net benefit of collective behavior is lower than the unit cost of
conservation activities (Baland and Platteau,1997).
Private participation in local resource management can be explained in terms of three
distinct phases of collective action: a) challenge to the status quo and proposal for
collective action; b) choice problem of the stakeholders between cooperation and
noncooperation and c) the emergence and evolution of collective action as a result of
individual’s decision in b) (White and Runge, 1995). For instance, the study by White
and Runge (1995) about local watershed management in Haiti observes that the
initiation of collective action came through a nongovernmental organization Save the
Children Federation (SCF).Similarly the Joint Vertisol Project (JPV) discussed in
Gaspert et. al. (1997) and Water User Association in Dick et. al. (2002) played a
crucial role in the formation of community awareness in Watershed development in
Ethiopia and Irrigation Canal management in India respectively. In the second stage
socio economic factors like land holdings, capital/labour endowment, type of yield
from land, availability of exit options and leadership variables like membership in
peasant associations were found to be the important determinants of cooperative
behavior. However, the emergence of collective outcome and its sustenance largely
depends on whether the joint outcome is supported by private Nash Equilibrium
(Baland and Platteau, 1997). There are instances where the cooperative outcome fails
because coordination failure. Agents may indulge in Pareto inferior behavior if there
However, Ghosh and Karaivanov (2007) shows that if all agents are homogenous such reduction in public
good provision in presence of increase in alternative income can actually reduce welfare.
~ 11 ~
is absence of credible commitment for others to undertake a collective rational
outcome. In a synthesis, Agarwal (2001) lists a number of factors such as a) resource
characteristics - well defined boundaries, b) group characteristics - shared norms,
heterogeneity of endowments but homogeneity of identity and interests, c)
Institutional arrangements -locally devised management rules and ease in enforcement
and finally d) external environment involving governments aid and recognition to the
local group that are conducive to the sustenance of collective action in particular.
In the specific case of Sundarban areas the extent of private participation in
embankment conservation can be analyzed by considering strategic interdependence
of the agents benefiting from flood protection. As such given the level of public
action that has been the patch works by irrigation department and recent flood control
schemes under NREGA one can identify three types of agent interaction for
supplementing public projects with private expenditure. The first arises where the
villages have entirely agricultural plots near the embankments. The second type of
village is where major land use is fishery and in the third case we identify villages
there is a mix of fishery and agricultural plots. In each of these villages the incentive
to participate in embankment protection is likely to differ as here the level of
government involvement varies according to land use and property rights over land
are different. To be more specific there is an active lease market or secondary market
in case of fishery lands. Here, individuals trade lands without formal legal procedure
and this informal contract in production also has a bearing on the extent of
expenditures or efforts incurred by the land owners in maintaining the nearby
embankments. Thus, in order to gain a proper understanding of the relation ships
between land ownership and embankment maintenance a brief discussion of the
evolution of land rights and its dynamics warrants a discussion
3.2 Land Use patterns and Embankments: A brief account of Sundarbans
The 3500 km long embankments that serve as the major defense against tidal
intrusion in Sundarbans were set up by the initial settlers during the colonial period.
The property right of these embankments was vested in the hands of zamindars that
made the tenant farmers responsible for its maintenance and repair. Thus, the
incentive to maintain the embankments were largely associated with potential of crop
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damage from saline ingress and the consequent fear of disentitlement from tilling
rights once they fail to pay their rental obligations. After independence the
Government of West Bengal took over the onus of repair and maintenance of the mud
embankments and in due course of time it changed hands from the Land Revenue
Department to the Department of Irrigation and Waterways. In rural West Bengal the
land reform programme ‘Operation Barga’ was initiated in 1978 and thereafter the
share croppers (bargadars) were ensured the legal protection against eviction by the
landlords, and entitled them to the due share of the produce. The thrust in agricultural
activities were short lived in Northern part of Sundarbans as shrimp farming offered a
more profitable venture compared to mono cropping practices. Thus, outside capital
owners leased in land from small peasants in the river side and previously distributed
land holdings again amalgamated to form large tracts of fishery farms. As the fishery
operators were outsiders over time non-payment of lease and neglect of embankments
became a pressing problem and from the late nineties the villagers themselves started
operating the fishery farms on their own13. However, as the fishery farms on large
lands were redistributed again the fishery operations were generally organized under a
committee formed out of the landholders in the same tract of plot. Most of these
fisheries drew water from the sluice gates of dig canals across the landholdings but
there are others who dug pipes in the embankments to channelize brackish water in
their ponds. The operation and maintenance of the sluice gates, canals and
embankments henceforth became the responsibility of the committee or the
individuals who used pipes to bring in saline tidal water. Apart from the sudden
shocks of embankment collapse one recurrent idiosyncratic shock that threatened the
fishery activities for the past few years in these areas is one of virus infection of the
fishes. The fishery owners incurred huge loss due to the fish disease and here in the
third phase of land transformation has started to occur. The phenomenon is in its
inception but is visible in many parts of North Parganas: fishery fields being
converted in to brick kilns. Paradoxically, the fishery fields are again leased out to
outside capitalists against a higher lease rate and longer tenure that what it was in case
of aquaculture lands. The tendency has accentuated even more after Aila.The
community participation in embankment management hence, needs to be examined in
However, the lease market for land did exist and now it changed hand frequently among local villagers.
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this background taking into account all the factors that affects the benefits and cost of
embankment conservation.
(To be updated with suitable references; specific management practices in
Bangladesh and Netherlands to be discussed in this context)
4. Methods
4.1 Hypotheses
The following hypotheses were formulated:
Hypotheses I: The net benefits
of private expenditure for embankment
conservation is higher for households with brackish water aquaculture farms
as compared to agricultural households;
Hypothesis II : The private expenditure for embankment maintenance among
fishery farms varies according to farm size, land ownership status, exposure to
random shocks of high probability like virus attacks and shocks like
embankment breaches etc. and public intervention in dyke preservation;
Hypothesis III: The institutional arrangements for embankment maintenance is
contingent on farm specific characteristics like source of brackish water, land
arrangements as well as group and village specific characteristics.
4.2 Theoretical Framework
Individual contribution to embankment maintenance is likely to depend on the
expected loss when the embankment breach takes place under usual tidal surge.
Unless accompanied by easterly winds such breaches are idiosyncratic in nature in
that affects the plots that are closer to the river in Sundarbans. Hence, those living
closer to the river embankments have the maximum incentive to undertake
maintenance work. In primarily agricultural areas there may be two reasons why
under provisioning in terms of private investment occur: first habit formation of
receiving public assistance in case of breach events and irregular but public
maintenance activities from NREGA fund and Irrigation department. Secondly
comparatively low returns in agriculture may have increased the opportunity cost of
regular maintenance. Places where there are both fisheries and agriculture the location
of the plots as well as government inaction provide incentives for undertaking mud
patching expenditures in dyke maintenance. This is because typically for ease of
water withdrawal the riverside plots gets converted to fisheries pushing the
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agricultural plots at the centre or the periphery of the village. The same logic applies
for fishery prone areas also. Moreover, these plots in almost all cases evade the
license from Aquaculture authority (and don’t have a legal standing of the agricultural
plots such as ryoti and patta) and so no question of government compensation arises
in case there are possibilities of tidal inundation. The higher expected loss (of higher
returns) from fishery business is another factor that drives the maintenance activities
in this part of Sundarbans.
However, the portion of embankment used for fishery purpose may be tied to more
than one land where large number of plots draws water from a single source (hence
forth referred as many plot-single source, MS). In the eventuality of embankment
collapse all these plots get affected and so for them the total amount of embankment
protection obtained is a function of the sum of individual contribution. For single plot
–single source (henceforth SS) system the embankment is much like the private good:
the flood protection benefit is a function of his own contribution.
Assume that the utility function of the typical individual is described as
.... (1), where
flood protection benefit,
the numeraire is good
is the total
is the public provision of embankment and is given and
is the individual contribution for embankment conservation.
The individual maximizes (1) subject to the budget constraint
… (2),where
income from fishery farm and
is the unit cost of conservation and
is the
is the wealth endowment.
…. (3)
In the MS case the individual solves for
Typically then individual contribution in this case depends on income, wealth, cost
poof provisioning and the contribution by other members. The last term also
incorporates the free riding concept in the form of non-contribution.
In the SS case we obtain
… (3)
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To capture the relation ship between public and /or private investment assume that
Then the individual contribution can be solved as:
….. (5)
Consider then the following cases
Predominantly agricultural village the observed non-contribution is possible if
Assuming no other people contribute, complete non-contribution by an individual is
ensured if government conservation expenditure covers his total income and wealth
The MS case
and finally,
The SS case
Thus, evidently
See Cornes (1993,p-263)
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Apart from the extreme case of zero contribution to what extent the effort of
agricultural falls short of (or may even exceed) the contributions of the fishery farms
would depend on the relative magnitude of public intervention vis-à-vis private
contribution of the fishery owners.
(The case of non-cooperation so that contribution becomes zero in the MS case to
be updated)
4.3 Econometric Specification
The regression equation for estimating private contribution to embankment
maintenance is
….. (1)
Expenditure on conservation
can be typically measured as the total wage bill paid
to labourers; in case of family labour the prevailing wage rate can be imputed. This is
so because in Sundarbans hiring labour for mud patching is common and due wageemployment scheme of the NREGA wage rate has been fixed in the labour market.
One can also consider the cost of material for embankment patching but generally the
only thing used here is mud from the near by plots and river silts and so its cost can be
over looked. The data regarding income can be obtained as the yield rate of land
under both agriculture or fishery and the past sales record. While present value of
household’s fixed asset can be an indicator of his wealth, amount of land holding can
stand for both wealth and income. The variable
stands for system dummy and can
be used to capture village level fixed effects. However, since information regarding
NREGA flood control works is available the government intervention can be included
in the regression as the population average. Then finally
specific characteristics.
5. Study Area and Data
5.1 Sampling Plan
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includes the fishery farm
To assess the differences in contribution in embankment conservation among fishery
and non fishery households we decided to sample Panchayts from two blocks in
Sundarbans : Sandeshkhali II in North 24 Parganas and Basanti from South 24
Parganas. From these two blocks we selected 10 villages: 7 from Sandeshkhali II and
3 from Basanti15. Both of these blocks are reported to have large tracts of aquaculture
farms. Land use information in the Census 2001 is available at the village level but it
does not specify how much of the land is actually used for brackish water aquaculture.
Hence two proxies were taken for village selection: proportion of cultivators to main
workers and proportion of land not available for cultivation. Though the latter is an
aggregative measure in the sense that it may include forests as well land under water
we did not have any data on land that is used for non-agricultural purposes. Moreover
in the selected villages there is no forest cover. Thus typically a low percentage of
cultivators to main workers and higher proportion of land not used for cultivation may
indicate higher prevalence of aquaculture activities16. Later we also rechecked with
the Sundraban officials to confirm whether these areas have substantial fishery
activities. The characteristics of the villages are reported in Table 3. Going by our
criterion Dhamakhali has the highest concentration of non-agricultural activities while
Sitalia has the lowest in Sandeshkhali II block but the latter has the highest
concentration of agricultural labourers. Literacy levels are less than 50 percent in
three out of seven selected villages namely: Atapur,Bermajur and Jhupkhali. In
Basanti Ramchandrakhali has the highest concentration of non-agricultural activites
while that in Sachiakhali is the lowest. Except for Masjidbati the other two villages
have literacy rates less than 50 percent. The villages in Bermajur I and II Gram
Panchayat are bounded by the Boro Kalagachi River while those in Monipur and
Khulna face the former along with the River Raimangal (See Map 1). Aila inflicted
heavy damage in all these villages with maximum damage being inflicted in Atapur
and Khulna. In fact, repair works of Irrigation were more or less complete in the other
villages two weeks after the cyclone while only 67 percent and 5 percent of the total
breach could be closed in Atapur and Sitalia (See Table 4).
(Description of Basanti to be added)
There are 8 Gram Panchyats in Sandeshkhali II block out of which villages were selected from 4. In Basanti
there are 13 Gram Panchayats out of which villages were taken from 3.
The correlation coefficient between proportional of area not available for cultivation and proportion of other
workers to main workers and proportion of cultivators to main workers is significantly negative and positive
~ 18 ~
From the chosen villages in consultation with the village informants like Panchayat
members we identified 50 households from each village from the voter list according
to occupational categories: fishery and agriculture. For villages with a mix of fishery
and agriculture the fishery households are oversampled according to the proportion of
each activites as reported by the Panchayat. Further within the fishery group we
selected households according to the source of brackishwater (i.e. SS or MS).
5.2 Data Collection and Analysis
Two types of data have been collected: secondary data regarding actual damage report
of the embankments due to Aila at the village level and primary data of the sampled
households in Sundarbans. The analysis of the available secondary data till date has
been reported in Section 2.
Prior to the occurrence of Aila a pilot study of 50 households were undertaken with
the revised questionnaire. The occurrence of Aila necessitated a few supplement to
the questionnaire regarding change in land use, work and employment pattern, wealth
changes and involvement of the occupational groups in embankment restoration. The
main survey in the first phase covered 150 households in all the 7 villages of
Sandeshkhali II block. The questionnaire generated data at two levels: household level
information such as, demographic and socio-economic parameters like household
size, occupation, sources of income like-farm income non farm income,religion,caste
etc. and secondly plot level information for each households. This second set damage
on each plot, expenditures undertaken, and amount of loss in monetary terms from
embankment damage -all information the Panchayat maintenance in the form of
frequency of embankment repair is also recorded. The preliminary findings of the
survey using only the plot level information is discussed below (The discussion is
based on a quick estimate as the data cleaning procedure is not yet complete. Number
of questionnaires had to be refilled due to missing observations and this delayed the
data entry procedure. Till date 130 household questionnaires had been entered but
needs more screening).
6. Results and Discussion
~ 19 ~
The results discussed here are based on 130 household level information and 188 plot
level observations out of which there are 122 fishery plots and 66 agricultural
plots17.The summary statistics of the two types of plot: fishery and agriculture, at the
village level is shown in Table 5. The plot holdings of the fishery households are
greater than agricultural households in fishery dominated villages (Bermajur,
Dhamakhali, Jhupkhali, Rampur, Dwarirjungle) than in principally agricultural village
(Atapur and Sitalia). Moreover in the villages with mixed fishery and agricultural
plots the distance of the agricultural plots from the embankments are greater than that
of fishery plots supporting the dynamics of land transformation mechanism discussed
earlier18. However, no clear pattern emerges with respect to incidence of embankment
damage differentials in the two types of plot experienced in the past three years across
villages. The same applies for the frequency of the operational plot getting affected by
tidal inundation for the last three years.
The descriptive statistics of the fishery plots according to the source of brackish water
is presented in Table 6. The areas of the SS (i.e. drawing water from the river directly
in their own plot) type fisheries are less than that of MS (i.e. where the source of
brackish water is shared by other plot holders) type plots. The difference is however
not statistically significant.
The total expenditure on embankment protection for both types of fisheries are
defined as follows: in the survey the fishery households are asked the amount of
family and hired labour days they had spent in the past one year before Aila for
embankment maintenance . The information about the wage paid to the hired labour
was also collected. Assuming that the opportunity cost of the family labour is the
wage rate for the hired labour the total wage bill for embankment maintenance was
obtained as the sum of family wages bill and hired labour wage bill. To this amount
the household’s monetary contribution to fishery committee for the last year is added
Other recorded plot use like sweet water fishery, orchard, brick fields etc. from our initial analysis. Together
with this the plot level observation comes to 249.
The t-test of equality of mean distance for the agricultural and fishery plots from the embankment rejected
the Null Hypotheis against the alternative hypothesis of distance for agricultural fields greater than fishery
fields at less than 1 percent level of significance only for the village groups Dhamakhali,Jhupkhali,Rampur and
Dwarirjungle. Though Bermajur has both fishery and agricultural fields such relationships are not statistically
confirmed. In this connection it may be noted that fishery activities have a longer history and larger
preponderance in the Dhamakhali village group than Bermajur.
~ 20 ~
if he belongs to one. This gives the total expenditure per year for an individual for
embankment conservation. However, in this initial estimate we did not include the
present value of land that the individual may have donated to the committee along
with others for leasing out. The total expenditure per year for the SS type fisheries is
significantly larger than that of MS type fisheries corroborating our model results19.
The possible reasons could be the fact that number of breaches in embankments
experienced by the SS type fisheries is significantly greater than the MS type
fisheries. Also added to this the number of public intervention in the embankment of
SS type fisheries is greater than that of MS type fisheries necessitating higher
One crucial determinant of conservation expenditure discussed above would be the
exposure of the fishery owners to idiosyncratic shocks like virus infection of fishes. In
fact, during field survey this was identified as an important determinant of
profitability in fishery business. The incidence of virus infection recurrently plagues
the fishery farms in this part of Sundarbans and its loss potential may increase the
opportunity cost of other mitigation expenditures. Further, village level fixed effects
like the state of infrastructure; activism of the Panchayats towards flood protection
may also influence the individual level of expenditures undertaken.
To estimate the conservation expenditure it must be noted that there are a lot of zero
observations as not all fishery owners undertake investment expenditures on
embankments. Thus, for the estimation procedure a Tobit model seems appropriate.
The estimates of the Tobit model are reported in Table 7. Note that instead of taking
the total expenditure as the dependent variable we have normalized it by the total area
of the fishery plot. The regression results show that initially expenditure of
embankments is directly related to exposure of virus attacks and embankment
problems but increasing levels of virus attacks reduces the amount committed for
embankment maintenance. Next, the level of flood protection provided by public
agencies i.e. the Irrigation department is directly related to the expenditure. This is
likely because the Irrigation department mostly carries out the immediate repair works
The t-test for equality of means of total expenditure across SS and MS type fisheries reject the NullHypotheis against the alternative hypothesis of SS type expenditures being greater than MS type at less than 5
percent level of significance.
~ 21 ~
in these areas and given the uncertainty of its availability further maintenance work
may be necessary to minimize potential damage cost. The coefficient on the square of
the public intervention term is negative but not significant and hence the crowding out
effect cannot be confirmed at this stage. Finally the coefficient on source of brackish
water is positive reiterating our claim that SS type fisheries incur more expenditure on
embankments compared to MS type fisheries. The village dummies are all positive
but only that of Dhamakhali, Dwarirjungal and Rampur are significant. The model
provided good overall fit in terms of the chi2 but the pseudo R square is quite low and
hence the specification issues are to be investigated further.
~ 22 ~
Table 1 : Embankment Damage and NREGA Expenditure for Jaynagar Irrigation Division –Summary Statistics
(N=No. of Gram
Subsidence & Breach
length (m)After Aila
as on 25th May
NREGA per work
expenditure in 200809(Rs. Lakhs)
Area not under
Proportion of literates
to Total Population
Canning I
Canning II
Mathurapur II
Notes: Figures in parentheses shows standard deviation.
Source: Embankment Damage report from the Jaynagar Irrigation Department, NREGA website for the
expenditure data and census 2001.
~ 23 ~
Table 2 : Estimates of Embankment Damage from Aila on25th May, 2009
N=70,F(9,60)=21.39***,R2=.63,Root MSE=.00021
Note: ANCL: area not under cultivation (hectares), PLI: proportion of literates in the total population
of GP,NREWK: NREGA expenditure per unit of flood control works.
~ 24 ~
Table 3: Characteristics of the sampled village
Gram Panchayat
South 24 Pgs/ Chunakhali
Sachea Khali
12.58 19.88 42.86 71.21
Ramchandrakhali Ramchandrakhali 21.72 4.82
41.42 74.58
68.58 0.00
65.90 56.64
38.62 6.27
46.34 68.76
North 24 Pgs/ Bermajur II
16.58 49.34 93.83
Bermajur II
21.05 23.54 42.14 61.74
Bermajur I
28.20 22.65 45.31 56.62
Bermajur II
20.70 8.84
49.38 83.44
38.43 35.96 52.59 60.57
23.19 34.59 47.50 60.97
61.87 15.78 54.14 70.79
44.65 22.16 49.77 61.76
Notes : SC: Schedule Caste,ST: Scheduled Tribes,L:Total Literate population ,P:Total Population,MW: Main
worker,PANCL:percentage area not available for cultivation. CUL:Cultivators,ALAB:Agricultural Labour,OTH:Other
Workers (%:percentage of population)
Source: Census 2001
Table 4: Progress of work under Basirhat Irrigation Division after Aila as on 11.06.2009
Sandeshkhali II
Sandeshkhali II
Sandeshkhali II
Sandeshkhali II
Sandeshkhali II
Sandeshkhali II
Sandeshkhali II
Source: Basirhat Irrigation Division, Office of the Executive Engineer
~ 25 ~
Work Progress
Breach Closed
Breach Closed
Breach Closed
87 percent
37.75 percent
67 percent
5 percent
Table 5: Summary Statistics of Plot Characteristics
Fishery Agriculture
Fishery Agriculture Fishery
DIST(m) 1009.31 1297.467
Notes: AREA:area of the plot in bigha,DIST(m):distance of the plot from the nearest embankment in
meters,EBK:incidence of embankment breach in last three years,LAFF: no. of times plot area affected due to
embankment problems in last three years.
Source:Field Survey
Table 6: Summary Statistics of Fishery Plot Characteristics
Source of Brackishwater
Notes:,EBK:incidence of embankment breach in last three years, GOVT: number of public intervention in
embankment maintenance in the last three years,TOT_EXP: Total expenditure of the household for
embankment maintenance in the past 1 year prior to Aila, AREA:area of the plot in bigha.
Source:Field Survey
~ 26 ~
Table 7: Tobit Estimates of private expenditure on embankments for Fishery Households
Dependent Variable: Per area expenditure on embankment (Rs. /bigha)
Independent Variable
3748.11 **
N=99, LRchi2(11)=41.62***,pseudo-R =0.04,Log-likelihood=-476.5
Notes: FVI: frequency of virus attacks in the last three years, FVI_SQ: square of FVI, BWD: dummy variable
for source of Brcakish water 1 for SS and 0 for MS, EMBK: number of embankment breach events experienced
in last three years;PUB: public agency both Irrigation and/or NREGA maintenance of embankment in last three
years,PUB_SQ: square of PUB;D_BM: village dummy for Bermajur,D_DH: village dummy for
Dhamakhali;D_DL: village dummy for dwarirjungal;D_JH: village dummy for Jhupkhali;D_RM:village dummy
for Rampur.
~ 27 ~
Figure 1: Investments in the urgent repair works in Sundarbans, Irrigation and Waterways
~ 28 ~
Map 1: Sampled Villages in Sandeshkhali II block
Notes: Green boxes show location of sampled villages
~ 29 ~
Map 2: Sample villages of Basanti Block
Notes: Yellow boxes show sampled villages
~ 30 ~
Map 3: Selected study blocks in Indian Sundarbans
Notes: red dots show selected blocks
~ 31 ~
Photo 1 : Embankment breach in Atapur after Aila-almost two weeks after!
Source: Own Photo from field visits
~ 32 ~
Photo 2 : Embankment collapse in Dhamakhali after Aila (field visits with Panchayat members shown in the right)
Source: Own photo from field visits
~ 33 ~
Photo 3 : Sitalia after Aila
Source: Own field vists
Photo 4: Their Agony-my compulsion-Sitalia two weeks after Aila
~ 34 ~
Source : Field Visits
~ 35 ~

Vulnerability from Embankment Damage in Indian Sundarbans: Recent

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