Environmental Degradation and Migration from Bangladesh to India : Conflicts and Challenges

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2014

79 Pages




I. Introduction

-Significance of the study
-Literature Review

-Research Methodology

II. Environmental Conflict: A Conceptual Analysis

-Evolution of Environmental Conflict Research

III. Environmental Degradation in Bangladesh

-Sea Level Rise

-River Bank Erosion

-Coastal Erosion

-Population pressure


-Decline in the Quality and Quantity of Freshwater Resources

-Air Pollution

-Cyclones & Storms
-Loss of Bio-diversity

IV.Consequences of Environmental Degradation

-Decline in Agricultural Productivity

-Economic Decline

-Health Hazards

-Decreased Industrial Production

-Fuel Wood Scarcity

-Growing Incapability of State


V. Migration to India

-Climate change and migration

-Migration from Bangladesh to India
-Why Bangladeshi Migrants Take refuge in India

-Why Bangladeshi Migrants Come to India and not Chinese or Pakistani Migrants

VI. Impact in India

-Security Implications
-Demographic Impact

-Tension between Two Countries

-Threat to Territorial Integrity

-Economic Impact
-Political Impact






In the era of globalisation, where opening of borders is being advocated all over the world, there is one issue over which no nation-state is ready to compromise with its territorial borders. The issue of migration and refugees is considered so sensitive that states have often linked it with their sovereignty, independence and even existence. Environmental degradation has become a crucial issue in the contemporary world. The effects of climate change are likely to trigger mass human movement both within and across international borders. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”) predicts that between 50 and 200 million people may be displaced by 2050. Thus, the human impact on the environment is creating a new kind of global casualty for the twenty-first century—an emergent class of environmental migrants. Environmental crisis in the rural areas of developing countries is increasingly becoming an important cause of cross-border migration of population and South Asia is no exception to this phenomenon. Such movement of population in the Indo-Bangladesh context is generating a range of destabilising socio-political, economic, ethnic and communal tensions in India. It has embittered Indo-Bangladesh relations, causing tensions between the two countries.

Significance of the study:

This research work has tried to answer a few pertinent questions, which often arise in the minds of the students of International Politics and environmentalists. The questions like What is environmental conflicts?, Why environmental security is a national security in recent times?, What are the root cause of migration from Bangladesh?, Are environmental change is a driven factor of migration of Bangladeshi people?, What are the impacts of the migration in India?, Why Bangladeshi migrants migrate to India?, What are the pool factor of Bangladeshi migrants?, What are the push factor behind the migration of Bangladesh people to India?, What are the implication of the policies of the for this issue?,

Literature Review:

Gaan, Norratam. (2000), in his book “ Environment and Security: The casa of South Asia has discussed that the concept of environmental security arose at a time when there was already an intellectual ferment in the field of international security in the western world. The need for reconceptualizing the traditional understanding of security due to the latter’s utter inadequacy was felt. The need was to secure the people living within the state. Environmental degradation has been perceived as an equal if not greater threat to a neighbouring country in terms of pollution and environmental refugees, environmental security becomes a national security concern.

Datta, Sreeradha. (2012), in her book (eds), “ illegal migration and challenges for India ”, has explain the issue of illegal migration is highly motive and sensitive in Bangladesh and all governments have regularly denied the existence of the phenomenon. Although this has often been flagged in the meetings between border officials, Bangladesh finds it difficult to accept the fact that its citizens are illegally crossing over into India in search of livelihood. Academic communities in both countries have viewed the problem in the light of sociological and historical factors, but Bangladeshi politicians have been very defensive and unwilling to examine the issue through a rational prism. Rather ironically while Bangladesh push-sells its ‘hard working, disciplined, multi-skilled, easily trainable human resources [which] remain [Bangladesh’s] greatest asset’, and has been discussing the issue of legalising migration of its working population to different parts of the world (including Malaysia and Brunei), this subject remains a taboo as far as India is concerned.

Gaan, Norratam & Das, Sudhansubala. (2004), in their book “Recrudescence of violence in North-East Indian States: Roots in Environmental Scarcity, Induced Migration from Bangladesh”, attemptedthat under the simmering cauldron of violence and insurgencies in Indian states lie imperatively the environmental causes or factors inducing migration from Bangladesh which the policy makers are enjoined upon to reformulate what they have so far considered as national security prioritized on realist paradigm. They argued that human induced environmental degradation and pressures might seriously affect national and international security. The topic ‘environmental security’ encompasses an almost unmanageable array of sub issues, especially if security is defined broadly to include general, physical, social and economic well-being. The scope of the problem has been narrowed by focusing on how environmental stress affects conflict, rather than security. Environmental stress might contribute to conflict as diverse as war, terrorism, or diplomatic and trade disputes.

The scope has been focused on how environmental stress affects violent national and international conflict. The connection between environmental scarcity and degradation of resources and violent conflict has been well established in the this study which focused on causes and problems of environmental scarcity and degradation of resources in Bangladesh. The various social effects in terms of economic decline and poverty, and growing incapability of the state have been studied which ultimately have led to migration of Bangladeshi people to Indian states. Keeping in mind the disastrous consequences of environmental scarcity of resources, finally they suggested a broader comprehensive security in South Asia on environmental dimension as a major part of the solution to the crisis as well to the other outstanding issues bedeviling their bilateral relation. This study assumed importance in global context, as global warming due to the industrialized North’s emission of co2to the atmosphere has a great bearing on Bangladesh and other countries like Egypt and Maldives. The present study posits a challenge to the western pattern of development being imitated by the South at the cost of their own environment, society and economy.

Jahan, Momtaz . (2008, April-June), in his article The impact of Environmental degradation on women in Bangladesh: An overview” has focused on the gender differential impact of environmental degradation in Bangladesh and how women have to bear the outcome of nature’s maladies disproportionately.

Alam, Sarfaraz. (2003) , in his article Environmentally Induced Migration from Bangladesh to India” has discussed and argued on environmental crisis as a reason for the continued migration of people from Bangladesh to India. It shows that scarcity of land and water in the rural areas of Bangladesh, caused by rapid population growth, environmental change and unequal resource distribution and development are causing widespread landlessness, unemployment, declining wages and income, growing income disparities and degradation of human habitat. The affected people, unable to satisfy their needs in an economically less-developed Bangladesh, are increasingly moving to India where the prospect of life appears to be better and suggested that this flow of population would continue unabated, perhaps at a greater rate, unless remedial measures are taken in the places of origin of the migrants.

Dixon, Homer. (1994), in his article “Environmental Scarcities and violent Conflicts: Evidence from Cases “ has analyzed within the next fifty years, the planet's human population will probably pass nine billion, and global economic output may quintuple. Largely as a result, scarcities of renewable resources will increase sharply. The total area of high-quality agricultural land will drop, as will the extent of forests and the number of species they sustain. Coming generations will also see the widespread de- pletion and degradation of aquifers, rivers, and other water resources; the decline of many fisheries; and perhaps significant climate change. If such "environmental scarcities" become severe, could they precipitate violent civil or international conflict? The article concludes with an assessment of the implications of environmentally induced conflict for international security.

Hagmann, Tobias. (2005, January), in his article “Confronting the Concept of Environmentally Induced Conflict”. argued that the concept of environmental conflict is fundamentally flawed, as it relies on preconceived causalities, intermingles eco-centric with anthropocentric philosophies, and neglects the motivations and subjective perceptions of local actors. In addition, a number of theoretical and heuristic questions are raised in order to challenge core assumptions on the ecological causes of violent conflict. The article concludes with a plea for peace and conflict researchers to call into question the concept of environmental conflict, as it represents an inappropriate research strategy in our quest to understand human-nature interactions.

Swain, Ashok. (1996), in his article Displacing the Conflict: Environmental Destruction in Bangladesh and Ethnic Conflict in India” , has described Conflicts may arise directly due to scarcity of resources caused by environmental destruction, and can also be the potential consequence of environmentally forced population migration. India and Bangladesh are in a long-standing dispute over the sharing of the waters of the River Ganges. Since 1975, India has been diverting most of the dry-season flow of the river to one of her internal rivers, before it reaches Bangladesh. At Farakka, this has affected agricultural and industrial production, disrupted domestic water supply, fishing and navigation, and changed the hydraulic character of the rivers and the ecology of the Delta in the down-stream areas.

These trans-border human-inflicted environmental changes have resulted in the loss of the sources of living of a large population in the south-western part of Bangladesh and have necessitated their migration in the pursuit of survival. The absence of alternatives in the other parts of the country has left no other option for these Bangladeshis but to migrate into India. The large-scale migration, from the late 1970s, of these Muslim migrants into Hindu-dominated lndia has culminated in a number of native-migrant conflicts in the receiving society. The Indian state of Assam, which received a large proportion of these migrants, was the first to experience conflict. Conflicts between natives and migrants have now spread to other parts of India and have becomea major issue for politically rising Hindu organizations. As this study determines, environmental destruction not only creates resource scarcity conflicts, it can also force the people to migrate, thus leading to nativemigrant conflicts in the receiving society.

Behera, Subhakanta. (2011, May), in his article “Trans-border identities: A Study on the impact of Bangladeshi and Nepali migration to India”, has examined the implications for India’s national interest, especially when the migration is illegal and poses multi-layered challenges to the Indian state. The paper looks at various policy options for the government to tackle migration-related issues. It concludes inter alia that, India’s borders with Bangladesh and Nepal must be regulated and that resident migrants need to be strategically dealt with, keeping in mind age-old relationships with these countries and, more importantly, the nature and construct of our geography.

Reuveny, Rafel. (2007) in his article ,” Climate change-induced migration and violent conflict” has argued that the effects of climate change on migration by exploring the effects of environmental problems on migration in recent decades. People can adapt to these problems by staying in place and doing nothing, staying in place and mitigating the problems, or leaving the affected areas. The choice between these options will depend on the extent of problems and mitigation capabilities. People living in lesser developed countries may be more likely to leave affected areas, which may cause conflict in receiving areas.

Naser, Mohmud Mostafa , (2012) in his article “Climate Change, Environmental Degradation, and Migration: A Complex Nexus” has examined the possible link between environmental change and consequent human migration. It shows how the major impacts of climate change play a substantial role in triggering human migration. Then it analyzes the types of environmental migration found in the literature on causes and extent of movement. Providing an overview of predicted numbers and figures of environmental migration, this Article also analyzes debates associated with environmental migration mainly based on the problem of multi-causality to show the diversity and complexity of issues related to environmental migration. Finally, this Article argues for recognition of and protection for migrants forced to move to safer places due to certain direct impacts of climate change, notwithstanding the existence of multi-causality.

Panda, Architesh. (2010), in his article “Climate Induced Migration from Bangladesh to India: Issues and Challenges” argued on climate variability and changes as a reason for the continued migration of people from Bangladesh to India and attempts to understand the vulnerability of people using the concepts of nested vulnerability. The vulnerability of specific individuals and communities is not geographically bounded but, rather, is connected at different scales. Among the many causes of vulnerability of people, cross border migration due to climate change might increase the susceptibility of people to climate change in both the countries. Without adequate bilateral and multilateral institutional arrangements in place to protect of climate migrants, it will pose greater risks to India.

Kumar, Chirantan (2009, January) , in his article Migration and refugee issue between India and Bangladesh” has attempt to understand the migration and refugee issue between India and Bangladesh through historical and analytical methods. In this course it will look into the emergence of the refugee problem, its causes, impacts and eventually will come up with a possible roadmap that can suggest a practicable solution to the problem.

Objectives of study:

This research work is devoted to provide basic ideas of the followings:

-To explore the knowledge about environmental change as a factor of International Migration.
-To focus the ideas about environmental induced migration from Bangladesh to Indian
-To focus the problems of Indian States Caused by Bangladeshi migrants.
-To focus that environmental security as a national security.


1, .Decreasing supplies of physically controllable environ- mental resources, such as clean water and good agricultural land, would provoke interstate "simple-scarcity" conflicts or resource wars.
2. Migration caused by environmental stress would induce "group-identity" conflicts, especially ethnic clashes.
3. Severe environmental scarcity would simultaneously increase economic deprivation and disrupt key social institutions, which in turn would cause "deprivation" conflicts such as civil strife and insurgency.

Research Methodology:

The study is an analytical study. It is an empirical research work based on environmental change is the root cause of migration from Bangladesh to India which is driven force of conflicts and violence or insurgencies in Indian states.

The kind of data is qualitative in nature. The data is compared with the previous figures given. Most of the data are secondary

Chapterization of study:

The research work has altogether seven chapters.

The Chapter I: Introduction: This chapter explains about significance of the study, literature review, objectives of study, hypothesis, research methodology and chapterization of study.

The Chapter II: Environmental Conflict: A Conceptual Analysis. This chapter explains the meaning of environmental conflict and environmental security. The sub chapter: Evolution of Environmental Conflict Research explains the evolution of the concept of environmental conflict with the views of Two research groups researchers at the University of Toronto directed by Thomas Homer-Dixon, usually referred to as “the Toronto Group”; and scholars associated with the “Environment and Conflict Project” (ENCOP) of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and the Swiss Peace Foundation in Bern.

The Chapter III: Environmental degradation in Bangladesh: This chapter evaluates about the degradation of environment in Bangladesh such as; sea level rise, river bank erosion coastal erosion, population pressure, flood, decline in the quality and quantity of freshwater resources air pollution, cyclones & storms, finally loss of bio-diversity

The Chapter IV: Consequences of Environmental degradation in Bangladesh: This chapter talks about the impacts of environmental change in Bangladesh such as; Decline in agricultural productivity, economic decline, health hazards, decreased industrial production, fuel wood scarcity, growing incapability of state and migration. These are discussed in this chapter.

The Chapter V: Migration to India: This chapter presents the knowledge about climate change and migration, migration from Bangladesh to India, why Bangladeshi migrants take refuge in India, why Bangladeshi migrants come to India and not Chinese or Pakistani migrants.

The Chapter VI: Impacts on India: This chapter examines the impacts of the Bangladeshi migration to India. In this context the topic presents the detail ideas about these impacts security implication, demographic impact, tension between two countries, threat to territorial integrity, economic impact, and political impact

The Chapter VII: Conclusion: This concluding chapter describes about economic measures, border control measures, eradication of environmental degradation, conflict management and conflict resolution: approaches, reduction of carbon dioxide: north’s responsibility, in crying need: an effective immigration policy



While focusing on states as unity of analysis, the realist approach does not take into account the environmental issues and downplays the internal factors and the indirect transboundary effects of environmental degradation. This has led Homer Dixon to states that, “realism induces scholars to squeeze environmental issues into a structure of concepts including state, sovereignty, territory, national interest and the balance of power”. This, in his opinion may “lead theorists to ignore, distort, and misunderstand important aspects of global environmental problems.” (Gaan, 2000:3)

Environmental security as a concept encompassing non military aspects was officially mentioned for the first time in the International Conference on the Relationship between Disarmament and Development, convened by the United Nations General Assembly in New York from 24 August to 11 September 1987. The final document adopted by consensus by the representatives from 150 participating states, says:

“Recently non-military threats to security have moved to the forefront of global concern. Underdevelopment as well as mismanagement and waste of resources, constitutes challenges to security. the degradation of the environment presents a threat to sustainable development…mass poverty, illiteracy, disease, squalor and malnutrition affecting a large proportion of\ the world’s population often become the cause of social strain, tension and strife” (Fisher, 1933:10).

Growing further than this, the report, by the WORLD Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland Report) entitles “Our Common Future” stressed the influence of environmental degradation on the relationship between states. It attempted to establish the conflictual relationship between states as:

“Environmental stress is both a cause and effect of political tension and military conflict. It states that, ”nations have often fought to assert or resist control over raw materials, energy supplies, land, river basin, sea passages and other key environmental resources. According to the report such conflicts are likely to increase as these resources become scarcer and competitions for them will increase” . [1]

Jessica Mathews justifies the reasons for encompassing resource availability questions as well as environmental issues into the framework of security.

Norman Myers, similarly held that

“…..national security is not just about fighting forces and weaponry, It relates to watersheds, crop lands, forests, genetic resources, climatic and other factors that rarely figyre in the minds of military exports and political leaders, but increasingly deserve, in their collectivity, to rank alongside military approaches as crucial to nation’s security’s.

Westing in similar vein suggested incorporating environmental issues into the themes of comprehensive security in the sense of security for all citizens in a state rather than into a narrow understanding of security in military denominations.( Gaan & Das,2004: 19,20)

All these show that threats are not only military but also environmental

The conceptual development of environmental security as a new theme in international relations studies marks the beginning of the environmental conflict school. Since the mid-1980s, scholars such as Westing aimed at extending conventional security thinking to include other issues such as environmental change and resource depletion. This interdisciplinary and largely conceptual debate mobilised academic and political stakeholders alike. It was expanded by the end of the Cold War and exemplified the search for alternative paradigms in international affairs and security studies. Contributions focused on whether and under what circumstances the

biophysical environment represents a threat to national and global security. To this day the discourse on environmental security - as a potential threat to stability or a policy goal that needs to be achieved - is part of an epistemic community that critically advocates the broadening of (post-) national security.

Since the beginning of the 1990s, an ambiguous body of literature has emerged on the topic of environmentally induced conflicts. Claims that increasing resource scarcity and environmental degradation contribute to violent conflict. When empirical studies by environmental conflict scholars replaced alarmist assertions in the mid-1990s, [2] this initial doubt evolved into methodological and theoretical criticism. Numerous controversies have occurred in the past decade between members of the environmental conflict school and those opposed to their findings.

Much has been said and written about challenges to environmental conflict research and strategies to overcome the current deadlock. Prominent authors like de Soysa report that the debate on environmentally induced conflicts has reached a theoretical impasse unhelpful for policy makers and those wishing to prevent conflict. Dalby, who reasons from the perspective of a political ecologist, comes to the same conclusions. Gleditsch also subscribes to a “fairly pessimistic assessment of the state of the study of environmental causes of conflict”. Finally, Matthew concurs that the field’s value has been depressed by “simplified renderings of environment and security literature” (Hagmann, 2005:3, 4).

An environmental conflict is a conflict caused by the environmental scarcity of a resource, that means; caused by a human made disturbance of its normal regeneration rate, environmental scarcity can result from the overuse of a renewable resource or from the strain of the ecosystem’s; sink capacity, that is pollution. Both can reach the stage of a destruction of the space of living. [3]

According to Thomas F.Homer Dixon environmental change referred to a human induced decline in the quantity or quality of a renewable resource which occurs faster than its renewal by natural processes. (Dixon, 1994:8)

Environmental conflicts manifest themselves as a political, social. Economic, ethnic, religious or territorial conflicts or conflicts over resources or national interests, or any other type of conflict. They are traditional conflicts induced by environmental degradation.

Environmental conflicts are characterized by the principal importance of degradation in one of more of the following fields:

- Overuse of renewable resources;
- Overstrain of environment’s sink capacity (pollution);
- Impoverishment of the space of living.

Evolution of Environmental Conflict Research

Divergent conceptual approaches, methodologies, and levels of analysis make a coherent presentation of the environmental conflict literature difficult. Adding to this difficulty is the literature’s division into specific sub-themes such as water conflicts, land and territorial disputes, or conflicts over mineral resources including oil and diamonds. Previously the state of the art had been based on consecutive “generations” of environmental and conflict research, noted differences and commonalities in methodology and research design, or stressed underlying normative underpinnings and epistemology. This section recounts the evolution of environmental conflict research (in the disciplinary fields of political science and international relations) on the basis of its most important themes or research strands. These research strands are partially overlapping, not consecutive in a chronological sense, and mutually constitutive as they reflect the dialectic evolution of the field.

A number of major contributions on empirical tracing of the environment-conflict link emerged in the early 1990s. They were characterised by a strong emphasis on empirical evidence and a “process-tracing” methodology applied to numerous case studies. This research stream focused predominantly on causal links between environmental scarcity, degradation, and acute national and international conflict in developing countries and countries in transition. Two research groups were at the forefront of the endeavour to demonstrate and typify causal mechanisms between resource scarcity and physical violence: conflict researchers at the University of Toronto directed by Thomas Homer-Dixon, usually referred to as “the Toronto Group”; and scholars associated with the “Environment and Conflict Project” (ENCOP) of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and the Swiss Peace Foundation in Bern. Both research groups used different terminology and concepts. Nevertheless both aimed to reveal empirically how and under what circumstances resource scarcity causes armed conflict.

Their analysis focused mainly on renewable resources that are key for food production such as cropland, freshwater, and forests. Both projects operated exclusively on the basis of ex-post analysis of cases where environmental scarcity had actually led to conflict. Consequently, both defined conflict typologies and theorised on the socio-political processes that led to violent conflict. The Toronto Group conceded that environmental scarcity “rarely contributes directly to interstate conflict”. Conversely, its conclusions remained fairly determined, as a number of negative consequences such as impoverishment, population displacement, or states weakening were associated with environmental scarcity.

These social effects create and reinforce instability. Under given circumstances, this leads to collective violent action. Consequently, three main types of armed conflict might arise from environmental scarcity; that is, simple-scarcity conflicts, group-identity conflicts, and insurgencies in the context of relative deprivation of lower-status groups. ENCOP in turn envisioned seven stereotypical environmental conflicts; ethno-political conflicts, centre-periphery conflicts, regional migration/displacement conflicts, transboundary migration conflicts, demographically caused conflicts, international water/river basins conflicts, and international conflicts arising from distant sources due to neo-colonialist exploitation of resources.

The next research thrust was inspired by theoretical and methodological criticism of the Toronto Group and to a lesser degree to ENCOP.

A number of researchers associated with the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo, and figure prominently among this strand of environmental conflict research. This heterogeneous group of scholars initially set out to test and validate or disprove conclusions of previous research. They used statistical methods and conducted large cross-national tests. Consequently their contributions provided a clearer picture of geographic and diachronic frequency distributions of environmental conflict cases. Use of quantitative models allowed them to ponder the relative weight of various variables and thereby to refine existing environmental conflict models. New ecologic and socio-political variables were included in studies that focused on renewable and non-renewable natural resources alike.

Some core conclusions of the previous research strand were challenged, namely the alleged determinism between resource scarcity and violent conflict. Nonetheless, scholars in this phase remained attached to the idea of investigating causalities and correlations Economic and political variables were identified as “missing links” between environmental degradation and armed conflict. While these contributions of International Peace Research Institute, Oslo,-associated researchers innovated the empirical analysis of environmental conflicts, they failed to generate new theoretical insights or ground-breaking concepts. Between environmental variables and domestic armed conflict. Members of this innovative research stream repeatedly called for inclusion of other independent and intervening variables such as poverty, political regime type, or cultural variables (Hagmann, 2005: 5, 10).

The literature on environmentally induced conflict has produced contested empirical and theoretical conclusions. Its core assumption that the environmental quantity and quality of a country or region can be causally linked to the presence or absence of conflict remains questionable. The concept of environmentally induced conflict has proved elusive. This elusiveness largely results from preconceived causalities, academic philosophies that combine eco-centric and anthropocentric conceptions, and the failure to provide an explicit explanation of agency in human-nature interactions. In addition, neo-Malthusian narratives with a predominant focus on scarcity disclose an overly simplistic conception of the multi-causality and complexity of violent conflict and of existing coping strategies. Lastly different types and intensities of violent conflict are intermingled and aggregated with disregard for regional specificities or qualitative differences in their manifestation (Hagmann, 2005: 20).


1.World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future ( The Brundtland Report), New York\ London: Oxford University Press, 1987, p-290 [1]

[2] See, Stephan Libiszewski, What is an Environmental Conflict?, ENCOP Occasional Paper No. 1, (Zurich: Center for Security Studies).p-6

[3] Ibid.

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Environmental Degradation and Migration from Bangladesh to India : Conflicts and Challenges
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Susanta Kumar Parida (Author), 2014, Environmental Degradation and Migration from Bangladesh to India : Conflicts and Challenges, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/263833


  • guest on 11/2/2013

    This is an important book for researcher. go ahead susant

  • Susanta Kumar Parida on 10/31/2013


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