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Bill victory for wetlands
- Last-minute rollback restores status to waterbody

The East Calcutta Wetlands has not been tampered with. The East Calcutta Wetland (Management and Conservation) Bill, 2006, was passed in the Assembly on Friday with a series of amendments ensuring that its character remained unchanged.

Dag numbers 771 to 775 at Dhapa Manpur mouza, listed by the environment department under 'urban/rural settlements' in the Bill, was termed 'substantially waterbody-oriented area' in a last-minute amendment brought by government chief whip Rabin Deb.

The bill passed without an amendment would have provided legal sanction to two real estate projects coming up in the area, and paved the way for further constructions on the Ramsar site.

'For the moment, the threat has been stalled and the area is safe. I thank all those who stood by us through this battle,' said land and land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah, who had opposed the environment department's move, taken the promoters to court and secured a demolition order against the constructions.

Metro had run a campaign against the attempt by the environment department to alter the character of the wetlands through the Bill.

Observing that land records show the dag numbers to be 'waterbody' and that Calcutta High Court had also upheld the area as such, the standing committee to which the bill had been referred recommended that Table 28 be amended and the area be shown as a waterbody.

An amendment also refuses the government the right to 'exclude', 'curtail' or 'modify' any part of the East Calcutta Wetlands, which is the norm when a wetland is declared a Ramsar site.

WWF India, which had alerted the Union environment ministry against the move to change the character of the wetlands, welcomed the amendment. 'The government has finally acceded to pressure and good sense has prevailed. But we will have to keep a watch against potential threats to the wetlands,' said Colonel Shakti Ranjan Banerjee, regional director, WWF (India).

State environment minister Manab Mukherjee conceded ground reluctantly: 'My department has satellite pictures showing the area to be dry land. Even when the dag numbers were listed under the 'urban settlement' head, the area was part of the East Calcutta Wetlands. However, we're giving in to the demands by the land and land reforms department and listing the area as a waterbody.'

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