Keynote Address by Shri Bhupender Yadav, Hon’ble Union Minister for Environment, Forest & Climate Change, at the workshop on ‘Bluer, Greener & Inclusive Growth in the Sundarban through an Ecosystem-based Approach

Ms. Habibun Nahar- Hon'ble Deputy Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of Bangladesh (GoB)

Mr. Saber Hossain Chowdhury- Chairman, Parliamentary Standing Committe on Environment, Forest and Climate Change, GoB

Maj. Gen. Sheikh Pasha Habib Uddin- Director General, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS)

Mr. A.T.M. Rokebul Haque- Director General (South Asia), Ministry of Foreign Affairs, GoB

Ms. Cecile Fruman- Director, Regional integration and Engagement, South Asia, World Bank

Mr. Abdoulaye Seck- Country Director for Bangladesh and Bhutan, World Bank

Mr. August Tano Kouame- Country Director of India, World Bank

Ladies and gentlemen,

A very good morning to everyone.

Split by the border between India to the west and Bangladesh to the east, crowning the Bay of Bengal, the world’s richest and most diverse river delta works like South Asia’s showerhead.

Fed by Himalayan snowmelt and monsoon rains, the three great flows of Ma Ganga, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna rivers all end in one vast tangle, one of Earth’s great water filters, the mangrove forests of the Sundarban.

Such is the beauty of this natural blessing that it came to be called Sundar + Ban, meaning a beautiful forest. Running between India and Bangladesh, Sundarban among many things is a symbol of the shared legacy between the two countries. I am happy to note that this legacy has been shared peacefully and through mutual understanding.

I therefore at the very outset would like to congratulate the Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies, the Vivekananda International Foundation and the World Bank for organising this Regional Workshop on Bluer, Greener and Inclusive Growth in the Sundarbans through an Ecosystem-based Approach.

Ecosystem-based approaches focus on the restoration and enhancement of ecosystem services to protect society against negative impacts of climate change. The ecosystem approach makes clear the link between the status of natural resource systems and ecosystem services that support human well-being. Before we proceed further, I would like to draw your attention to a very important aspect. The ecosystem approach sometimes can be misunderstood as a system of using the ecosystem to support human well-being.
As part of the developing world, both India and Bangladesh are well aware of the problems of this approach. Mindless development in the name of human well-being in the Western world is the reason why we are faced with increased climate disasters. Treating the ecosystem as a means for human well-being has been proven to be a flawed idea. Nature does not exist for human well-being alone. But exploiting nature can impact our well-being because we are after all One with Nature. Sundarban is a thriving example of Oneness with Nature.

The ecosystem approach should work for the well-being of all life on Earth – plants, animals and human included. Even the folk tale of Bandevi underlines this same message of the need for harmonious coexistence between human and nature. In this tale Bandevi is the protector and Dakkhin Rai the destroyer.

The legend of Bandevi is a moral tale that tells us nature nurtures us and therefore is our mother.

Those who protect nature are protected by nature, but those who destroy nature are destroyed by the forces of nature. The same spirit is reflected in the motto of India’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.

Prakruti Rakshati Rakshita

Nature Protects if She is Protected

Sundarban offers the largest contiguous mangrove forest in the world. It accounts for the largest population of Royal Bengal Tigers, an endangered species. Interestingly, the Sundarban mangroves are the only mangrove habitat for tigers worldwide. With an estimated population between 400 and 450 shared between Indian and Bangladesh, Sundarban has a higher density of Royal Bengal Tigers than any other population of tigers in the world.
Dakhin Rai is therefore worshipped as the Supreme Lord of Tiger in the whole of Sundarban.

The area thus supports an exceptional biodiversity in its terrestrial, aquatic and marine habitats. This biodiversity ranges from micro to macro flora and fauna. The Sundarban is of universal importance not just for Royal Bengal Tigers but also the Ganges and Irawadi dolphins, estuarine crocodiles and the critically endangered endemic river terrapin (Batagur baska).

The Sundarbans finds mention in the Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas.

A beautiful prayer says:

Bipod e poriya bon e jeijon e daak e,
Ma boliya Bonbibi daya r maa take …

[Facing any danger inside the forest, whoever prays to Her,

Bondevi protects them all]
Bondevi and Dakkin Rai are even today worshipped by those entering Sundarban to collect forest produce for sustenance.

I am mentioning these aspects of Sundarban today to underline the point that Sundarban is not an ecosystem that exists for human gratification but is part of the biological, civilisational and cultural existence of the people of India and Bangladesh.

We are committed to protecting the region to save our civilizational connect with the sundar ban. To achieve that aim, we have to protect the water, the trees, the wildlife and human life linked with Sundarban.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Mangroves cover only about 0.1 per cent of the planet’s surface. Yet, they can potentially store up to 10 times more carbon per hectare (ha) than terrestrial forests. Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi ji was quick to realise the importance of mangroves in climate action. India joined the Mangrove Alliance for Climate during COP27 in 2022. India also called for the ‘integration of mangroves’ into the national REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) at the summit.

In Budget 2023-24, the country announced MISHTI. MISHTI stands for the ‘Mangrove Initiative for Shoreline Habitats and Tangible Incomes’. Launched by PM Shri Modi ji, MISHTI is a significant step in providing ecosystem-based solutions for mitigating the effects of cyclones and storm surges and our fight against the climate crisis.

Under this scheme, India is taking up mangrove plantations along the coastline and on salt pans. The world has much to gain from India’s experience in mangrove conservation because we have shown expertise in the area for nearly five decades. India has restored different types of mangrove ecosystems on the east and west coasts and learnt some valuable lessons.

Spread across nearly 50,000 sq km in India, mangroves can remove nine tonnes of CO2 daily, which is equivalent to about $270 million in the international market.

Indian mangroves have high species diversity, with around 50 true mangrove species and more than 60 mangrove-associated plant species.
The faunal diversity of the mangrove ecosystem contributes to about 5% of Indian fauna.

I am happy to share with you that when PM Shri Modi ji released the tiger census report in April 2023, it was found that the Indian Sundarbans had registered a rise of at least 14% in its tiger population, recording the presence of a minimum of 100 big cats. In 2019, the number was 88.
At a time when globally, the rate of mangrove decline is approximately 1% per year; India has recorded a net increase of 946 sq km between 2017 and 2021. There is a lot that the world can learn from India’s efforts at protecting mangroves.

These achievements notwithstanding, India does realise that the sundarban ecosystem is at the forefront of climate change. The increasing frequency and intensity of cyclones, sea level rise and salinity is a warning bell for immediate interventions in terms of mitigation and adaptation of the local village communities.

The communities of sundarbans have been one of the smallest contributors to climate change, with one of the lowest carbon footprints but have been subjected to its worst impact.

In terms of adaptation, their traditional livelihood of fishing, crab collection and agriculture are slowly becoming unsustainable due to increasing salinity, changing biodiversity and increasing sea levels.

These adaptation measures can be of various measures that can provide them with sustainable livelihood and increase their standard of living within the sustainable limits of the region.

India accords huge importance to Blue Economy with focus on sustainable and climate resilient coastal infrastructure and livelihoods of coastal communities. The government is steering ahead with marine spatial planning (MSP) to develop a blueprint for area-based management with multiple management objectives.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Almost all families living in the Sundarban ecosystem depend on fish, either for food or livelihood. Mostly it is both. In India, Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana is working to bring about ecologically healthy, economically viable, and socially inclusive development of the fisheries sector.
The Blue Revolution scheme was born out of the vision laid by the Prime Minister of India when he said, “It is time now to usher in the Blue Revolution as depicted in the blue colour of the Ashok Chakra.” The Matsya Sampada Yojana was launched with an outlay of Rs 3,000 crore.

A key facet of the Indian governance model that I want to highlight today is a whole-of-governance and whole of people approach.

Different ministries and departments come together to ensure schemes made for people’s welfare actually work for them. So, if one ministry takes care of the fisheries department, the other ensures there is logistical support for its trade. Self-help groups work to ensure local folks are trained in the latest technology to increase production and carry out trade.

The Self-Help Groups involve local communities and so things work both with a top-down and bottom-up approach for maximum output.
In Sundarbans, the opportunities are big and endless. And I am happy to note that India and Bangladesh are committed to harnessing these opportunities responsibly.

The two nations are working together to ensure sustainability of the ecosystem of this deltaic forest and welfare of the people dependent on this ecosystem.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

And I hope that this regional workshop will be able to set the direction and increase the pace of this journey towards restoring the beauty of Sundarban, so that we can all once again marvel at its beauty and ensure our coming generations see the best of Sunderban and are also able to make the most of it.

Thank you all.

Jai Hind.

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