Agartala: West Bengal has undertaken an ambitious Rs.12,000 crore project to protect and develop the Sundarbans, the world`s largest mangrove forest and a World Heritage site, a senior official said here.
"The detailed project report (DPR) of the project would be ready by March next year," said West Bengal Green Energy Development Corporation (WBGEDC) chairman-cum-managing director Shanti Pada Gon Chaudhuri.
Gon Chaudhuri, who has won Britain`s Green Oscar for his contribution towards development of non-conventional energy in India, said that efforts were on to develop the Sundarbans into a global tourist destination by preserving its rich eco-diversity. Unesco has listed the Sundarbans as a World Heritage site.
The proposed projects include development of embankments along the network of rivers in the delta area, providing housing, energy, road connectivity and drinking water for around 400,000 inhabitants, and developing forestry and livelihood programmes.
"All the schemes are being prepared keeping in mind that these could be climate responsive," Gon Chaudhuri said.
"Four to five departments of the West Bengal government would be involved in implementation of the massive project. Overseas and international funding agencies are expected to be involved in the Rs.12,000 crore (Rs.120 billion)project," he said.
The Sundarbans lie on the delta of the rivers Hooghly, Brahmaputra and Meghna spread out both in India and adjoining Bangladesh. It is home to the Royal Bengal Tiger, the estuarine crocodile, the Indian python, besides 260 bird species.
Located in South 24-Parganas district of West Bengal, the delta is a vast area covering 4,262 sq km, including a mangrove forest cover of 2,125 sq km in India alone, and a larger portion in adjacent Bangladesh.
The Bangladesh government had already started implementing several projects to develop and protect the Sundarbans on its side with financial assistance from the World Bank, he said.
The Sundarban affairs department, the WBGEDC, environment organisations and NGOs will also jointly organise a `Save Sunderbans` campaign to focus attention on the area, especially with the ongoing Copenhagen climate change summit expected to raise the issue.
Around 500 students from the Sunderbans are expected to join the campaign in Kolkata, Gon Chaudhuri added.
Environment and wildlife experts had, in the aftermath of the May 25 Cyclone Aila that wrecked large parts of the West Bengal delta, feared that it would cause lasting ecological damage to the Sundarbans, an important biosphere reserve.