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A day for the wetlands

Miles and miles of lazy wetlands, fresh air, greenery, birds on song, excited schoolchildren and fishermen marked the World Wetlands Day celebration at Jhagrashisha Bheri in East Calcutta Wetlands. The day marks the adoption of the Convention of Wetlands (Ramsar convention) in 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar. The bheri is a 40-minute drive from Sector V.

The South Asian Forum for Environment (Safe) had organised an event there to generate awareness about wetland protection. “The East Calcutta Wetlands take in around 1,000 million litres of metropolis sewerage every day, prevent flood and recharge city groundwater. The Sundari trees here are vital for fresh oxygen supply to our city,” said Dipayan De, chairman of Safe.

But De was alarmed that these trees were now being cut down to accommodate more buildings. “This has reduced the volume of fresh oxygen and clean water and endangered 264 wetland species of plants, migrant and resident birds, fish, reptiles, mongoose and turtles. The whole ecosystem is under threat,” he said.

US consul-general, Dean R. Thompson, who was one of the invitees, donated 100 saplings to the bheri and planted some too. “I hope the youth will take back a message from this programme and spread it,” he said. Clinton S. Brown, political and economic affairs consul, made a great attempt at translating Thompson’s speech into Bengali, which brought on smiles.

Also present was general manager of Hyatt Regency, Marc Lorenz. “I come to jog here every morning. Hyatt has a Green Team to inspire conservation of the local environment.”

Scientist and member of East Calcutta Wetlands Management Authority, Sashidulal Ghosh, said their work was dogged by a lack of funds and initiative. “We have not received the kind of grants that the other Ramsar sites like Chilka Lake have,” he said. “We have a Jalabheri Bachao Committee comprising 10,000 members. We donate Rs 5, Rs 10 or whatever we can and protest issues that are harmful to the wetlands.”

He added that the wetlands also change hands regularly. “The owners of these wetlands are often unable to bear the ever-increasing costs of fish production and land maintenance and hence are forced to sell them off. This is where we need government support but the government shows very little interest for the protection of the wetlands.”

He hoped that the authorities would promote tourism here. “The spot is beautiful and even has the basic amenities. It needs to be promoted as a tourist spot so more people visit and realise the importance of the wetlands,” mused Ghosh.

After the meet, De held an interactive brainstorming session with children of the area on the importance of the wetlands.