Market forces appear set to invade the Dhakuria Lakes, where morning-walkers may have to fork out a little fee for a whiff of fresh air.
Though the government, faced with public outcry, has just abandoned the idea of imposing an entry fee on early-morning walkers at Banabitan, in Salt Lake, those at Rabindra Sarobar complex will have no such luck.
To begin with, the government will impose an entry fee of Rs 3 or more for the newly-constructed joggers’ path, to be opened to the public from Monday. Union minister for forests and environment T.R. Balu will unveil the project. State minister for urban development Asok Bhattacharya and minister for environment Manab Mukherjee will be present, along with Trinamul Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee, who represents Calcutta (South) in Parliament.
When contacted, minister Bhattacharya made it clear on Friday that the morning-walkers will have to pay an entry fee for a stroll in Rabindra Sarobar. “I don’t know about Banabitan, which belongs to the forest department. But for Rabindra Sarobar, we are left with no option but to impose an entry fee on the morning-walkers, since it is being developed with Central assistance,” Bhattacharya said.
The imposition of an entry fee was “unavoidable” since the Centre was funding the project. “I know that there is resentment against the decision, but we cannot help it, since a fee is the Centre’s demand,” he said.
Officials said the joggers’ path is part of the overall development plan for Rabindra Sarobar, already declared a lake of national importance by the Centre. “This is a Rs 10.80-crore project, of which the Centre will give Rs 6.96 crore. The rest will be borne by the state government,” they said.
Anil Das, chief engineer, Calcutta Improvement Trust, which is overseeing the development work for over six months, said the government will hand over the joggers’ path to a private party for maintenance. “But no decision has been taken yet on the entry fee amount,” he added.
Das admitted that they had received a memorandum from the Rabindra Sarobar Nagarik Committee, resenting the entry-fee proposal for using the path encircling Padmapukur. He said the government will invite private entrepreneurs to take over maintenance of the path.
Determined to thwart the government move, members of the Nagarik Committee, however, are gearing up to launch a mass agitation programme in south Calcutta. “We have already collected signatures from more than 1,000 morning walkers to protest the imposition of an entry fee,” said Ranajit Basak, vice-president of the Nagarik Committee.
According to him, the government could either impose fees on the affluent clubs housed in the Sarobar complex or go for a pisciculture project in the ponds for maintenance of the Lakes. “We shall oppose the move, come what may,” Basak asserted.