Open letter about proposed rock concert in Sunderbans

Dear Friends, My name is Arka Mukhopadhyay and I am a theatre practitioner and poet. I am writing this open letter, not as a member of any organization or partisan agenda, but as an individual, to share my grave concerns about a rock concert called Ujaan which is scheduled to be held in Frazerganj, which lies in the Sunderbans district in West Bengal from March 10th to 12th. As per the website and their facebook page, they claim that it is a festival for the Sunderbans. They also talk about some developmental projects that the concert will directly or indirectly lead on to (click here). They even seem to have WWF and Earth Hour as partners, as per the website.


However, I have very grave concerns about this venture because:

It involves a rock-concert involving some twenty bands and some more solo acts, and most of them will be playing electrically amplified music, which is likely to be very loud. So I have concerns about noise pollution, especially in a place like Frazerganj which is not too far away from the Sunderbans proper, and is itself a sensitive and ecologically threatened place. From what I gather, at least some part of the concert will be at night, which increases the noise-pollution issues, especially because the Higher Secondary exams start from the 16th.

This concert will involve the active participation of several hundred people, which I fear will be a huge burden on the natural and social fabric of Frazerganj, in terms of where so many people will stay, eat, their toilet facilities, etc.. The concert itself might cause a lot of environmental damage - at the least littering up the place, and I fear it will disturb local people. The venue will be on the Frazerganj beach, which will be quite catastrophic, and apart from the concert itself, their website talks about plans of camping accommodation on the beach, which seems like madness.

The passes for the concert are priced at 2,000/- per head, which puts it completely out of reach of the local populace. In fact, as the organizers themselves say on their facebook page, it is not meant for the local population. So effectively we are talking about a big-ticket event in which the community does not have a stake and from they are completely shut off, although it is being held in their name. In fact, the concerns become graver when we read through some of the proposed developmental projects, because we can see that there's nothing concrete their, only a wish-list. There's not even a clear plan of how the ticket money will be used - whether it'll be donated to some local organization or not. In fact, from what I could gather from a conversation with one of the organizers, the concert will pay for itself. The concerns become graver when one goes through what the organizers have to say on their facebook site (http://www.facebook.co/note.php?note_id=1978336135689240):

Ujaan wishes to attract an audience from all over India and enable sustainable community development in the Bakkhali-Frazergunj area. We do not wish to hold a concert for the locals, but for an urban, educated audience (Italics mine - notice how the locals are necessarily 'uneducated') who can well afford to pay for passes (thus enabling us to raise funds for the cause) as well as the hotel rooms, food and other tourist facilities that hold up the areas economy. This is also the portion of the population that will be able to influence the changes required at the very top.

And also this:

Bakkhali is a tourist spot with over 40 hotels, a government tourist lodge and many government guest houses, with many rooms going vacant most of the year because of lack of awareness and infrastructure in the area.

The Bakkhali Hoteliers Association have been participating in trade and tourist fairs to increase the tourist inflow.

Ujaan is one such platform aiming to promote sustainable development through eco-tourism. (Italics mine)

What cant be ignored is that the area is likely to develop anyway - Ujaan aims to give this growth a green direction so it can be sustained.

For this we shall be conducting clean up drives and awareness and training campaigns for waste and plastic management, apart from our other campaign activities, enabling the locals to deal with tourist-generated waste themselves.

I'm afraid that really exposes the concert as nothing but a tourism promotion exercise, something which the Sunderbans do not need. We do not need to make local communities dependent on tourism, or make them accept the 'inevitability' of tourist generated waste and then train them on 'waste-management'. I'm sorry, but that's just completely mindless, to say the least, and actually rather sinister.

If the idea is to do a concert to raise awareness about the Sunderbans and not for the local community, which in itself is fairly condescending and misguided, then my question is why do it there? Why descend on the local community with a huge rock-carnival? Have they asked for this? Do they want to be 'sustainably developed', whatever definition of that the organizers have? On the other hand, if the idea is to have a rock concert, why tag it to the Sunderbans? This looks like a way of legitimizing one's beach party in the name of a cause, at perhaps a great environmental cost to the local ecology and community.

A couple of more quotes from the website that substantiates the misguided and even sinister nature of this effort:

"....and we hope to demonstrate to the locals the values of sustainable development and eco-tourism "

And this:

"Well, about Frasergunj. We were scouring Google maps, looking for an ideal place, and the moment we spotted bakkhali-frasergunj we decided to give it a go."

My plea to all members of the public:
If you are planning to attend this yourself, please reconsider. Think about all the implications. If you know others who are planning to attend - please share these concerns with them.
Please contact the organizers to get their side of the story, and if you share my concerns, please tell them to call it off, think of shifting to Calcutta, or making the concert acoustic and smaller in scale. According to their website/ facebook page, you can write to tamseel@ujaanfestival.org, or magicwallrush@ujaanfestival.org, or call 09830770960

If you can highlight this to the ministry of environment, please do so.

In solidarity, warmth and peace,

Arka Mukhopadhyay

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