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Sea devouring Gujarat’s coastal villages

The rising waters of the Arabian Sea swallowed Girish Tandel’s ancestral home in Danti village of Valsad district some 15 years back. He is left only with memories of that home and a videograph of his uncle’s marriage that was solemnised at the family home in Danti.

– The fire temple of the Parsis in Udwada is at a stone’s throw from the Arabian Sea. Every monsoon, local Parsis are afraid the sea will come even closer and finally devour it altogether.

– Only ruins remain of what was once a 5-decade-old port in Machiwad village of Navsari. The port, along with the hutments beside it, was destroyed by the rising waters of the Arabian Sea.

– 70-year-old Artiben Tandel of Borsi village in Navsari can not offer prayers to her chosen deity, Hanuman, at her favourite temple. She says Lord Hanuman now lives in her heart as his temple was lost to the sea last year.

The examples given above give an idea of the destruction the Arabian Sea has wreaked on coastal villages in south Gujarat. The sea, subtle but ever assertive, continues to alter the topography of South Gujarat’s coastal areas.

Neo-tectonic shifts which cause the seabed to shift, and global warming, have caused a rise in the sea level. But the sea’s destructive work in South Gujarat’s coastal areas has been made easier by indiscriminate (and illegal) sand mining in the region. As a result, nearly 20,000 villagers in the region have lost their ancestral houses and land. They are perhaps Gujarat’s first set of what are globally called, ‘climate’ or ‘environment refugees’. Many villages which still exist on maps have actually disappeared, as even a casual Google Earth search will show. Scary, but this is the reality along Gujarat’s 1,600-km-long coastline.

Strangely, government agencies seem blissfully indifferent to the threat posed by the sea, so much so that there is no agreement on what is causing the destruction in the coastal regions.

Geologist Nikhil Desai of MS University, Baroda, is studying the Gujarat coastline as part of an all-India study by the Space Application Centre of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Even Desai does not lay the whole blame on the ‘sea level rising’ (SLR), saying that it could be one reason for the sea swallowing whole villages on the coast. But he adds that no study has yet been done to prove this. He is, however, confident that one of the main causes of the havoc wreaked on the coast is massive (and illegal) sand mining in the region, without allowing for ‘sedimentary budgeting’. ‘Sedimentary budgeting’ means a balance is maintained between the sand removed and the sand added to a beach. If a balance is not maintained, the beach either grows or shrinks.

"Because of continuous mining, construction of dams and constant soil erosion, sand (sediment) has been destroyed," Desai said. "This has led to massive soil erosion." He said he was apprehensive the monsoon would cause more havoc along the coast as the sea had moved 15 metres inland in the last 10 years. "In the coming decade, the sea will come right up to Billimora," Desai said, "which means it will start encroaching on Valsad town."

State’s first ‘Climate refugees’
The Gujarat government may have announced the creation of a climate change ministry but, for the last decade-and-a-half, the Arabian Sea has been hungrily devouring village after village on the southern coast of the state. DNA gives you a first-hand account of the destruction which is affecting thousands of people in South Gujarat. There is little that man can do against Nature’s fury, and waking up now may not prevent further damage in the near future but it will, at least, prepare us for the consequences.

Original article by Satish Jha / DNA.