Calling the Dhakuria lakes “Calcutta’s lungs” sounds like a rather grim joke. With the West Bengal government doing nothing about the barbaric levels of air pollution in the city, lungs happen to be the most savaged organs in the city. From murderous healthcare to noxious air, the state’s designs on the bodies of its citizens are hardly benign. So it comes as no surprise that a solidly environmentalist non-governmental organization has been forced to withdraw its petition to the Calcutta high court asking for the eviction of about 60,000 squatters in the Rabindra Sarobar area. They had started living along the railway tracks on railway property, and use the lakes for their daily requirements, depleting and polluting them almost beyond repair. Predictably, such a situation was immediately snapped up by the political parties, and it is the Trinamool Congress now which has openly opposed the court’s firm order to get the squatters evicted. The court had ordered the railways, city police and civic authorities earlier this month to evict the settlers within three weeks. It had also asked the Calcutta Improvement Trust to put in a report on how far the lakes and their surroundings have been beautified and developed.
But the Trinamool Congress legislator, Mr Sougata Roy, has declared that he and his party would not allow the eviction of the squatters. The Howrah Ganatantrik Nagarik Samity, which had filed the petition for eviction, sees this not only as the worst kind of populism, but also as contempt of court. The NGO has lost faith in its own and in the judiciary’s ability to maintain law and order in the state in the face of such unabashed misrule. It has therefore withdrawn the petition, a move which has been brazenly endorsed by this legislator and his colleagues. The NGO’s feelings of hopelessness and dishonour are quite understandable. Bringing notions of civic or environmental conservancy, development and beautification to bear on Bengal’s politicians requires a degree of naiveté which this NGO is sadly learning to overcome.