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Dry spell at wetland and township Cops sit on landfill complaints

The East Calcutta Wetlands Management Authority has accused police of sitting on as many as 200 complaints about filling up of ponds or building structures in the fragile ecological zone in violation of a high court order and a state act.

The complaints, some of them pending since 2007, have been lodged with five police stations in and around the city.

“In spite of lodging FIRs and giving repeated warning to the wrongdoers, there has been a considerable increase in illegal change in land character or mode of use of land within that area. We firmly believe that to some extent this is attributable to the failure of the police authorities to take prompt action,” Arijit Banerjee, the chief technical officer of the authority, wrote to the superintendents of South and North 24-Parganas and the commissioner of Calcutta police in December 2011.

The East Calcutta Wetlands, spread across more than 12,500 hectares, are considered the kidneys of Calcutta as they naturally treat the city’s effluents and make them fit for agriculture and fishery. The high court order and the state act, in an attempt to prevent an ecological disaster, have banned all activities within the wetlands that could lead to a landfill or a change in the character of the region.

The East Calcutta Wetlands Management Authority, a statutory body headed by the chief secretary, has been mandated to monitor and preserve the water bodies that have earned the recognition of the Ramsar convention for their role in maintaining ecology.

An authority official said the maximum number of complaints — 107 — have been lodged with Sonarpur police station, followed by Calcutta Leather Complex police station (46), Tiljala police station (25), Pragati Maidan police station (17) and Bidhannagar South police station (5).

Most of the complaints are related to setting up of small factories, godowns and garages by filling up water bodies. In some cases, walls have been erected around water bodies as the first step towards landfill.

Authority sources said the landfill was being engineered by local goons, many of whom are believed to have changed their party stripes since the change of guard at Writers’ last year, and clubs funded by a section of realtors and industrialists. “While the owners of some of the wetlands are party to the illegal activities, most are forced to sell their properties at a throwaway price, with the police deliberately choosing to look the other way,” said a source refusing to be named.

The issue was discussed at a recent meeting of the authority and the high court-appointed wetlands committee.

Senior police officers, however, denied that the force was sitting on the complaints of violation of wetlands rules.

“So far, I know 15 cases (42, according to the wetlands authority) have been lodged with Tiljala and Pragati Maidan police stations and 35 people have been arrested. We try to keep a watch on the East Calcutta Wetlands,” said Basab Dasgupta, deputy commissioner (southeast), Calcutta police.

Rajib Kumar, the commissioner of Salt Lake police, said: “We have not received any complaint after the commissionerate was formed. We will take action as soon as a complaint is lodged.”

The commissionerate came into being in January. Bidhannagar South police station was under the North 24-Parganas police when the wetlands authority lodged the complaints.

Pravin Tripathy, the superintendent of South 24-Parganas police, said: “I am verifying how many complaints are pending. If any complaint is lying unattended, I will take immediate steps.”

An officer of Sonarpur police station claimed that “only 21” landfill complaints had been lodged, against 107 cited by the wetlands authority.

A senior police officer tried to pass the inaction buck to the wetlands authority, saying: “Often they lodge a complaint but don’t bother to follow it up. In many cases it becomes a problem for us to locate the dag numbers. At times, violators cannot be traced. Some cases are sub judice,” said a police officer.

Environmentalists, however, alleged that instances of landfill are on the rise because of police and administrative inaction. “The police cannot shirk its responsibility. In 2010, the high court had observed that the police must take prompt action in case of any violation within the East Calcutta Wetlands,” said Biswajit Mukherjee, an environment expert and retired chief law officer of the state pollution control board.

“If such rampant violation continues in an area monitored by an authority headed by the chief secretary himself, imagine what is happening elsewhere in the state,” observed environment activist Subhas Datta.