The high court has asked the Calcutta Port Trust (CPT) to remove silt immediately from the bed of the Hooghly to ensure navigability in the 232-km-long channel between Calcutta, Haldia and the Bay of Bengal.
A division bench, comprising Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice Jayanta Kumar Biswas, delivered the order on Monday, while disposing of a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Alok Sanyal, former professor of physics, Jadavpur University, on the enviromental hazard.
In his petition, Sanyal alleged that crores had been spent on dredging the riverbed “but the efforts have gone fruitless, as the dredged-out silt is thrown back into the river, about 75 yards from the site they are scooped out from”.
Sanyal added that the government had allotted a site in Jellingham for the silt to be dumped, after it has been scooped out from the riverbed, but hardly five per cent of the 100,000 tonnes of silt were dumped there.
“The result is that though dredging operations started as early as 1907, the Calcutta port, which was in its prime till 1959, now ranks only fifth among the ports of the country. Besides, the silting has been telling upon the navigability of ships in ports of Calcutta and Haldia,” he added.
As a result, draught oil tankers, weighing 80,000 tonnes, have to sail into the Haldia dock in half-filled conditions. Sources said at least Rs 60 crore had been spent for dredging Haldia in the past five years.
Similarly, in Calcutta port, Sanyal alleged in his petition, instead of 15,000-tonne ships, only 8,000-tonne vessels could sail in.
He pointed out to the court that silt should not be thrown back into the river. Rather, it could prove a boon for urbanisation and brick kilns. “The Nayachar and Sagar islands could be developed into beautiful tourist spots by filling the land with silt,” he pointed out.
Captain Utpal Sen, superintendent, dredger and despatch service of the CPT, denied Sanyal’s allegations. He told the court that in order to keep the shipping channel navigable, about 20 million cubic metres of waste were removed from the riverbed annually. “The material removed from the riverbed was dumped about 40 km seaward from the area,” he asserted.
Sen admitted that the CPT had received the environmental clearance for shore disposal of dredged silt at a site south of Nayachar island.