The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Global arm of protection for wetlands

Calcutta, Nov. 28: The East Calcutta wetlands — all of 12,500 hectares — have made it to an international list that shields them from the jaws of development.

With this, the sewage-fed sprawl off the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass has been declared “an international ecological site”, changing all land-use equations on the spot.

Wetlands International, under a convention signed in 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar, has included the East Calcutta wetlands in a select list of 18 in the country.

Every realtor eyeing the area will now have to steer clear and even the “borderline” Bantala leather complex and the Rajarhat housing project will have to watch their steps. Once put on the list, no land-use is permissible other than that which supports wetlands or wetlands-related practices. As a result, the fate of several projects off the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass comes under a cloud.

The high-profile ones include the bypass connecting Rajarhat, the proposed Lake Lands IT village and Dimple Vincom Aquapark. Projects like the Rajarhat urban centre and the Bantala leather complex, too, will come under the scanner as they lie just beyond the wetlands boundary. The government’s proposal to divide the wetlands into core and buffer zones must also be scrapped.

The Ramsar convention is an international treaty aimed at “arresting world-wide loss and degradation of wetlands and promoting conservation of the existing ones”. India is one of the early signatories to the treaty that has 133 members.

The Union environment ministry and the wetlands section of WWF-India have confirmed the inclusion of the Calcutta wetlands in the list.

“This is an extremely important piece of news for us,” state environment minister Manab Mukherjee said. “We have been trying to get this recognition for a very long time. The fact that the entire 12,500 hectares of the East Calcutta wetlands have come under the Ramsar purview is extremely significant.”

The implications of the Ramsar status, the minister said, are far-reaching. “There has been pressure from various lobbies to gain access to the wetlands. This will help us shut the doors firmly on them,” Mukherjee said.

But with the recognition comes responsibility, warned Parikshit Gautam, in-charge, wetlands, WWF-India.

While congratulating the Bengal government for “setting the ball rolling by applying for the Ramsar recognition”, he said: “Being part of the Ramsar treaty brings certain responsibilities and obligations on the national and state governments. These include maintenance of the existing ecological character of the area, its wise-use system and protection of the area from the pressures of the so-called development lobby.”

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