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Bill breather for wetlands
- Legislation seeking to change site character referred to standing committee

The Ramsar site off the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass won a reprieve on Thursday, with the East Calcutta Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Bill being stalled in the Assembly.

As soon as environment minister Manabendra Mukherjee tabled the bill in the Assembly, Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim announced that it was being referred to the standing committee on environment for discussion.

'The bill has been referred to the standing committee for discussion and will be placed in the House in the budget session, which begins March 9,' said Rabin Deb, CPM chief whip in the Assembly.

'This is a relief, although temporary,' said land and land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah, who has been opposing the Ordinance promulgated in November 2005 by the environment department, providing legal sanction to two 'illegal' housing estates in the heart of the wetlands.

The land and land reforms department raised an objection, arguing that the plots being notified as 'urban/rural settlements' in the Dhapa Manpur mouza, were actually a waterbody.

Metro has been running a campaign this week against the attempt by the environment department to change the character of the wetlands through the bill (see graphic).

Now, unless the East Calcutta Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Ordinance is converted into legislation within six months, it will cease to be valid.

On the day of the Assembly reprieve, there was also a response from the Union environment ministry, after the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) had filed a complaint against the state environment department's move to change the character of the wetlands.

'This is a momentary respite, but we are determined to pursue this matter relentlessly and ensure that the wetlands are not tampered with,' asserted Colonel Shakti Ranjan Banerjee, state director, WWF (India).

The Union ministry has also taken exception to the state government's bid to slice off a piece of the Ramsar site. 'This is a very serious issue and we're taking up the matter with the state government,' said Siddharth Kaul, director of the wetland programme under the Union ministry of environment and forests.

Thursday also saw the West Bengal Trees (Protection and Conservation in Non-Forest Areas) Bill, regulating the felling of trees in rural and urban areas, being shelved.

Officials said the government, under pressure from the green lobby, had sought a detailed discussion on the tree bill to avoid a spat with environmentalists in the run-up to the elections.

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