The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Half of wetlands battle still to be won

Calcutta, Nov. 29: The East Calcutta wetlands may have been recognised by Wetlands International as “an international ecological site” under the Ramsar Convention, but they are not out of the woods yet.

The battle to protect the 12,500-hectare wetlands, which began a decade ago, has received a boost with their inclusion on the Ramsar list.

But the 1971 Ramsar Convention, which aims to halt the loss and degradation of wetlands, has “no real legal standing”, state officials and “development” lobbies said today. Environmentalists insisted they would have to be “as watchful as ever”.

“The government has worked hard to get the site declared a Ramsar site, but will it honour the implications it carries'” asked officials of PUBLIC, which had moved a public interest litigation, leading to Justice Umesh Chandra Banerjee declaring the wetlands a Wastewater Recycling Region in 1992 and barring any development in the area.

PUBLIC has been in and out of court for the past 10 years, standing in the way of every project that has been proposed on the protected lands — the most high-profile being the Purnendu Chatterjee-powered IT village.

The builders’ bloc is showing no signs that it will give the wetlands a wide berth. “We have just heard of a CMDA plan for a water theme park near Ruby General Hospital. If this falls within the prohibited zone, we will definitely go to court to stop it,” said PUBLIC.

Parikshit Gautam, in-charge, wetlands, WWF-India, has already urged the Bengal government to “keep a strict watch on projects like Rajarhat housing and Bantala leather complex”, bordering the area, to ensure that they do not influence its ecological character.

All eyes are now on the vital wetlands-management plan being drawn up by the government, to be ready “within a month”.

The government had so far internally classified the wetlands into three zones: Core, Buffer I and Buffer II. While the Core was to be protected, “development” was to continue in the Buffer areas.

“Following the Ramsar listing, we will stop all projects. But thousands of people live in those areas and we may allow local activities like fishery or agriculture to continue as a means of livelihood,” environment minister Manab Mukherjee said.

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