The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Protective arm for wetlands

Calcutta, Nov. 17: The Bengal government today announced an ordinance to protect the fragile ecosystem of the east Calcutta wetlands by defining the land-use pattern in the 12,500-hectare area.

After a long campaign by The Telegraph ' and a threat that the site may be dropped from the international Ramsar list of wetlands ' environment minister Manab Mukherjee unveiled the ordinance to prevent developers from grabbing the land and water mass known as Calcutta’s “kidney”.

Called the East Calcutta Wetlands (Conservation & Maintenance) Ordinance, to be enforced by an authority chaired by the chief secretary, its key feature is a ban on conversion of the land character.

If land character has already been changed anywhere, that portion will have to be restored to its original condition.

“All illegal constructions, be it residential complexes or colleges, will be demolished,” said Asim Burman, the environment secretary.

An environment official said there were about 200 violators (see list).

Already, the pollution control board has asked three huge automobile garages to close. The high court has ordered two housing complexes to be demolished and land character to be restored.

One is Sanjeeva Town, a bungalow estate in Rajarhat, which is almost 80 per cent complete and sold. The other is Green Valley Towers, also under construction.

“Demolition will create needless hardship for all the stakeholders,” said Pradip Kumar Chopra, of the builders’ lobby, Credai.

Offences under the ordinance are non-bailable with penal provision of three years’ imprisonment and/or fine up to Rs 1 lakh.

This paper had reported the east Calcutta wetlands making it to the Ramsar list, prepared by Wetlands International, in 2002.

The sprawl off the Bypass was declared “an international ecological site” for its wise-use system ' where sewage water supports agriculture and fisheries and gets naturally purified in the process.

Other cities spend thousands of crores to do this.

The government had done nothing so far to protect the zone, risking Ramsar derecognition.

Dhrubojyoti Ghosh, who discovered and named the wetlands, said the virtues for which the area won Ramsar recognition should be maintained. Environment activist Subhas Dutta struck a note of warning: “The ordinance should not remain just on paper.”

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