The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Wetlands in Ramsar delist shade

The East Calcutta wetlands, that made it to the international Ramsar list shielding them from the development lobby last year, could soon earn the dubious distinction of being blacklisted.

The area, vital to the city’s ecological well-being, has come under the scanner for the state government’s failure to come up with a comprehensive management plan and a move to redraw the map approved by Wetlands International. This amounts to tampering with the ecological character of the zone, argues the green lobby.

If the 12,500-hectare wastewater recycling region off the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass does make it to the Montreux Record — that deems “an international ecological site” as threatened and delists it from the Ramsar charter— it could throw open the doors to the building lobby raring to bite into the no-development zone.

Once included in the list by Wetlands International, under a convention signed in 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar, no land-use is permissible other than that which supports wetlands or wetlands-related practices.

“We have heard that the development lobby is at work and there is every possibility of the East Calcutta wetlands making it to the Montreux Record,” said Parikshit Gautam, in-charge, wetlands, WWF-India.

WWF sources went on to add that the government of West Bengal had just been “buying time”, not preparing the management plan but, instead, dwelling on how to change the wetlands map that had been chalked out by the state planning board in 1985.

The same map had been upheld by Justice Umesh Chandra Banerjee in a case of voluntary organisation PUBLIC vs the state. This designated no-development zone was then forwarded to Delhi, which, in turn, relayed it to the Ramsar committee for scrutiny and approval.

After all that, why must the map be reviewed or revised' Nitai Kundu, of Institute of Wetlands Management and Ecological Design, entrusted with the review responsibility, sees nothing odd in the move.

“Yes, a steering committee under the chief secretary has decided to take a fresh look at the map and, if necessary, make minor changes. We can make some modifications and let Wetlands International know,” asserts Kundu

The green lobby, however, is convinced that the state government has “no business” trying to tamper with the existing East Calcutta wetlands map. “If the map is modified under pressure from the real-estate groups, it is sure to exclude commercially-lucrative zones to allow construction work,” said an activist.

There has been a precedence in the delisting of a Ramsar site, in the form of Orissa’s Chilka lake, which was later re-admitted to the Wetlands International list, observed Arijit Majumdar, who has worked on the East Calcutta wetlands for an environment department project.

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