The Khari river and the proposed paper mill (the cement wall is visible) on its riverbed in Burdwan. Picture by Rinku Mandal
A proposed paper mill has filled up a riverbed in Burdwan and the company is continuing work despite a government order.
Krishna Tissues Pvt Ltd, Calcutta, has filled up a 1km stretch of Khari, a predominantly seasonal trans-Damodar river, near Narja village under Bhatar police station which runs along the Burdwan-Katwa state highway. The company says it wants to “reclaim” the land that originally belonged to the company to make space for its factory near Narja police station, which will manufacture packaging paper and boards.
The company is continuing work despite a notice from the block development officer and numerous complaints from villagers after the river was filled up near Narja.
On May 26, about 250 villagers from Narja protested and stopped employees of the electricity department from installing high-tension wires in the area for the factory.
The filling up may cause the river to change its course and cause floods, villagers and environmentalists fear.
The paper mill will make packaging paper and boards on 60 bighas. The cost of the project will be Rs 350 crore. It will be the biggest factory in the country manufacturing such products, the company claims.
But residents of several villages in the adjoining areas — Narja, Miredanga, Jhikardanga, Karjana, Paharhat, Nabasta and Mahachanda — are on the brink of despair about the project. Most worried are the 10,000 villagers in Narja, Nabasta and Jhikardanga, which are the closest to the river.
The Khari originates in Mankad from a ground spring and runs through Bhatar and Katwa for 200km to meet the Bhagirathi at Samudragarh in Kalna. The villagers feel that because of the filling, the river may rise and flood in the monsoon.
Khokan Midda from Narja, Kishore Roy from Nabasta and Rabilal Maddi from Jhikardanga are farmers. They are afraid of the monsoon. “Khari originates in the ground. We cultivate our land with its water even during the off-season. During the monsoons its banks are usually flooded. Our villages are close to the river,” said Midda.
“The filling may change the course of the river,” he added.
“They have been continuing work in the darkness after the BDO’s order,” said Midda.
Pralay Mandal, the BDO of Bhatar, said the concerned authorities had obtained permission from the Bamunara panchayat. “They would require more permissions, from the irrigation department, the land and land reforms department and an NOC from the pollution control department. I have only seen the NOC from the pollution control department,” Mandal said.
“I had discussed the matter with district magistrate Soumitra Mohan and stopped work in March. I don’t know with whose permission the authorities started work again. I will find out.”
“Khari is a seasonal trans-Damodar river but plays an important role in flood drainage in the Damodar basin along with rivers such as Banka and Behula during the monsoon. Any effort to fill up the river and change its course is illegal, condemnable and will definitely affect the environment,” said river expert Kalyan Rudra.
S.K. Bhaduri, the assistant general manager of Krishna Tissues Pvt Ltd, denied the charges. He said the river ate into the company land.
“It is not true that we are filling in the riverbed or changing the course of the river. About 2,500 square metres of our area was engulfed by the river. We are only trying to reclaim that land. The irrigation department is currently undertaking a survey and the reclamation work will start soon,” he said.
“We did not change the course of the river. Despite that, people from the locality raised objections and the BDO from Bhatar asked us to stop work. We stopped work for a month, but started again when we obtained an NOC from the pollution control board. This is the largest of such projects in the country and it will lead to the employment of 1,000 people,” he added.
Though Bhaduri claimed “30 metres of river width” would be filled up, local people insisted that the filling up has been much more.
Rudra found Bhaduri’s logic “completely unacceptable”. “The river has every right to meander within its flood plains and nobody has the right to reclaim and change its course,” he said.
“Thousands of acres of land have been engulfed by the rivers Ganga and Bramhaputra. Does it mean we start reclaiming those areas by filling up the rivers and changing their course?” he asked.
Panchayat pradhan Samimul Islam Sheikh said the panchayat had not issued a new permission.
Local Trinamul Congress leader Bhagyadhar Chowdhury said the factory would improve the local economy, many local people would get work but it was not worth establishing at the expense of the river.
State irrigation minister Rajib Banerjee said: “I have just heard of the matter and will take immediate action.”
However, the Krishna Tissues website keeps displaying its many features, including the claim that it is “eco-friendly”.