Waking up to the threat posed to the East Calcutta Wetlands by several realty projects, the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government has finally decided to initiate action against the offenders.
The process of clearing up the 12,500-hectare sprawl and restoring it to its original form has begun, with the first step being relocation of the proposed Dhapa water pumping station of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC).
The government is also drawing up a list of buildings on the wetlands, declared a 'no-development' zone by Calcutta High Court. The owners will be asked to vacate and the structures will be demolished.
Prodded by chief secretary Amit Kiran Deb, the CMC has agreed to shift the proposed 30-million-gallon water pumping station from the periphery of the wetlands.
'We have chosen another site that is a km away, on Calcutta-Basanti Road. There is no risk of filling up any waterbody there. We have approached the East Calcutta Wetlands Authority for clearance,' civic commissioner Alapan Bandyopadhyay said on Sunday.
'The CMC project was to have come up on 20 acres off the wetlands. We have relocated it. As for other violators, we'll not allow them to encroach on the wetlands, which is a Ramsar site,' asserted chief secretary Deb, who also chairs the newly-formed authority.
The panel is compiling a list of unauthorised structures that have come up on the watery sprawl over the past two decades. 'We're especially concerned about the structures that have come up after 2002, since these violate the Ramsar norms,' Deb added.
An environment department official said a survey had identified 700 constructions that have come up after the site won the Ramsar tag in 2002.
As many as 4,500 settlements have come since 1992, the year Justice Umesh Chandra Banerjee of the high court declared the area a wastewater recycling region.
According to officials, the owners of the post-2002 structures will be issued eviction notices after the Assembly elections. 'Most of the violators are first-time offenders. If they fail to relocate within the specified time, the structures will be demolished,' a member of the wetlands authority said.
With the Wetland Management Authority coming into being, the right to grant clearances for all projects in the area rests solely with it.
'From now, project promoters will have to first approach the Authority, which will forward the proposal to the department concerned for its perusal,' said an official.
'There is no need for separate clearances from the fisheries department, land and land reforms department and the state pollution board, as the Wetlands Authority is the single window for issuing the final okay,' the official added.