1 May 2019
Bali is one of the 9 islands within Gosaba block in Indian Sundarban. The island, about one hour cruise from mainland, stands perilously close to the wild island and there had been incidents earlier when the tigers had swam across the river stretch and entered Bali island. However now the forest department of West Bengal has made several arrangements to deny easy access of tigers in Bali island .The island has been created by the silt deposition of river Vidya and Gomati. While river Vidya flows at the west side of the island; the area from Gosaba Bazar to Sonagao is on the east within courses of Durgadwani and Gomati rivers. On the south side, the stream of Vidya overlaps with Panchamukini river; while Vidya-Durgadwani and Hogal river confluence at the north. During the time of cultivation on the surface of the island, historically sand dunes were used to be observed, which gives its name ‘Bali’; meaning sand in Bengali language.
The tradition of cultivation in Sundarban has started since 1770 alongside Zamindari system. The representatives of Zamindars, who got the land from British, started the cultivation with the 40-99 year lease agreement on different islands of Sundarban. By 1912, cultivation work began on the island of Bali. During this period, Zamindars from Beliaghhata, Nadia, Kolkata (Calcutta), Burdwan, Dhakuria, Magrahat etc. came to this island for land management and cultivation. People from different communities were involved in planting ranging from Adivasis from Bihar to Bede, Bhumij etc. from Midnapur, Baruipur and Diamond Harbour. Later, a major section of the peasant force settled permanently in the island which got divided in six mouzas; Birajnagar-JL No-16, 17, Bali JL No-18, Amlamethi JL.No-19, Char Amlamethi JL.No-20 and Mathurkhand JL No-21. However in 1978, the island was split into two Gram Panchayates, Bali 1 and Bali 2. Bali 1 gram panchayat consists of 3 mouzas – Amalemethi, Char Amlamethi and Mathurkhand while Bali 2 gram panchayat has been constituted of Birajnagar, Vijayanagara and Bali mouzas. The island is surrounded by 46 km river embankment, 22 km in Bali 1 and rest 24 km in Bali 2, which is very critical to the survival of the island especially in these days of incrementing climate change impacts. Incidentally the scar of major storms in 1988 and 2009 are still alive in memories of local people; when significant lives and livelihoods were lost in Sundarban.
On infrastructural count, Bali has been scaling up consistently in recent time. Bali, which has been growing as a tourist destination, has local markets in Amlamethi Rajabazar, Mathurkhand Mandir Bazar, Bali Wednesday Market, Vijayanagar Vidyamandir Bazar to meet the daily needs of the people. Four Post Offices cater to daily postal service. Children’s education has been facilitated with number of schools being established in Bali; like Bali Dhanmoni Model High School ; Saturnayanpur Shashibhushan High School or Vizaynagar Adarsha Vidyamandir (1970).
To meet the agricultural demands, rainwater harvesting is practiced in number of canals like Holi Canal, Malaswangi Canal, Kali Canal, Chharkakhar Canal. As a matter of fact 80 percent of the island people depend traditionally on farming, catching fish & crabs, fish & prawn seedlings collection, honey collection from the forest, making boats, and few people are involved in service and business. However with climate change making deep inroads in the livelihoods like agriculture and fishery; there has been a trend to shift to service sector like tourism in the area.
How to reach Bali Island:
From Kolkata :
By Car: via Baruipur, Canning , Basanti highway, Sonakhali to Godkhali (approx 85 km) for about 2.5 hours; boat to Bali for about 1 hour
By local train: Local train from Sealdah to Canning within 1.30 hours min. Take auto rickshaw or hired pool car to reach Godkhali which takes about 1 to 1.30 hour. Then by boat to Bali island.
By bus: One can reach Godkhali from Kolkata by bus from Esplanade of Kolkata which may take about 4 hours. Then by boat to Bali island.
By car: Via. Then by boat to Bali island, it take 1 hour.
Information sources: Regional history of the Sundarbans, Sundarban Sankhya-6 by-Kanai Lal Sarkar; local information