The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Wetlands prey to realty raj
- Minister accuses department of altering site character to favour blacklisted projects

Land and land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah has accused the state environment department of changing the character of a part of the East Calcutta Wetlands, near Bantala, to favour realtors.

According to Mollah, the environment department is overriding objections from his ministry and pushing the East Calcutta Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Bill, 2006, in the Assembly, to seek legal sanction for two 'blacklisted projects'.

On Sunday, the minister said he would take up the issue at the highest level of the CPM. Mollah's latest broadside comes close on the heels of statements that kicked up a row over Indonesia-based Salim group's proposed township on farm land in South 24-Parganas.

The wetlands controversy relates to table 28 in the bill, which proposes to notify dag nos 771, 772, 773, 774 and 775 in Dhapa Manpur mouza (now Kochpukur) as 'urban/ rural settlement area'. 'Dhapa Manpur mouza was a wetland. During the early days of the Rajarhat township, when its boundary was being drawn, around 100 acres from the wetlands were merged with the adjoining Kochpukur,' Mollah said.

'To make matters worse, the local panchayat has okayed two housing estates on the land and the environment department has issued its clearance,' he added.

Acting on a petition filed by the land and land reforms department, Calcutta High Court in November last year had declared the projects illegal. Observing that the structures had encroached upon the wetlands, the division bench had appointed a special officer to supervise their demolition.

The promoters later moved the Supreme Court and obtained a stay.

Biswajit Mukherjee, senior law officer of the state pollution control board, said: 'The apex court issued stop-work notices in December. We've taken pictures of the sites and instructed the police not to allow any construction.' He also said the promoters had not sought the board's clearance.

When the environment department promulgated the East Calcutta Wetlands ordinance in November, Mollah had objected to the Dhapa Manpur plots being designated 'rural/urban settlements'.

His department had written to environment secretary Asim Barman, asking how the character of land, listed as wetland, could be changed. He demanded that the original character of plots be restored.

But the environment department tabled the ordinance unaltered in the Assembly.

Environment minister Manab Mukherjee said he was not aware of any objection from Mollah's department. 'Hence, the question of modifying the bill does not arise.' Secretary Barman concurred.

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