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After 19 years boats sail on River Ichhamati!

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The flowing Ichhamati always had a romantic appeal. No wonder it has featured in many iconic movies, literature and even played a crucial role in uniting the two sides of Bengal. But that very river was dying, a slow and painful death and when India is reeling under scarcity of water, it was all but a dire necessity to save Icchamati from disappearing. 

The river which contributes to the ground water level in a major portion of South Bengal was drying up fast, the fish had disappeared and fishermen turned to daily wage labourers. The river-fed region is facing an intense water scarcity which is worsening with every passing day. This is when 26-year-old Sabarna Saraswati stepped in. He had spent his childhood in Dattapulia, a small town in Nadia along the Ichhamati River. The scenario had changed drastically ever since the flood of 2000 struck this land. The water level started receding, drinking water was nowhere available. The floodwater deposited silt on the river-bed which further slowed down the river. Sabarna realized the river was falling prey to destruction. He wanted to save his beloved river and consulted river activists. He learnt that Ichhamati flows through India and Bangladesh and is a distributary of Mathabhanga river. The river is around 284 kilometres long which comprises of 100% fresh water and the rest consists of salt water. The water current slowed down ever since the Pabakhali Rail Bridge came up at the junction of Churni and Ichhamati river. 

The salt water area has enough width and current but the fresh water area is perishing. Farmers have used vast tracks of the river bank and construction of residential buildings have taken place. The water has turned so toxic that no aquatic life can survive. The panchayat has announced the water to be unfit for bathing. The government is spending crores for offering rations at low prices for people in the area as the locals can no longer get their food from the river. Only if the government had spent on dredging! 

Sabarna in a bid to save Ichhamati started from the source of the river and walked more than 130 kilometres and covered more than 55 villages in North 24 Paraganas and Nadia and aims to end his journey till the end of the river. He has collected extensive data about the local people, economy and environment. The rough estimate states that around 30,00 people directly depend on the river. Sabarna has an agenda of approaching the environment activists with this important data by next year. If the government does not take the needful action within two years, he plans to create a movement with the villagers for the sake of saving Ichhamati river, which is a lifeline for the entire region. Now his work is showing a lot of hope. After almost 19 years, the river has cleared a lot, and boats are sailing again. Even the water hyacinth that was majorly clogging the river have been removed and is being kept in 60 different pits to create vermi compost or fertiliser that will be distributed to farmers. Thanks to Sabarna’s fight the river has been saved at last!