The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A city minus a master plan

Dipankar Sinha, director-general (town planning) of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, met readers of The Telegraph and answered their queries. Participants included Chanchal Sarkar, Bidyut Banerjee, Talat Sahabuddin, Shankar Ghosh, Shashi Damani, Lalit Singh Nahar, Arka Sen, Sarmistha Lahiri and Tithi Chakraborty

Chanchal Sarkar: Is there any master plan or development plan for Calcutta and its fringes'

No. The British government had declared Calcutta its capital and Calcutta was the capital of British-ruled India for 143 years. The British had developed three villages of Gobindapur, Sutanuti and Kali Kota into a city but no master plan was drawn for its town planning. Similarly, no such master plan was drawn in the post-Independence era. All the development activities are being carried out on an ad hoc basis.

Bidyut Banerjee: That means the city never had a development plan!

JAM SESSION: An over-crowded and narrow pavement in south Calcutta. A Telegraph picture

Yes it had. The Calcutta Metropolitan Planning Organisation (CMPO) in 1966 had prepared a development plan for Calcutta. The Metro Railway project was part of this plan. But due to some hurdles, all the proposals in the plan were not implemented. For example, the plan had proposals for two underground Metro Rail networks. One from Tollygunge to Dum Dum and another from Salt Lake to Ramrajatala, in Howrah, under the river Hooghly.

Talat Sahabuddin: Do you think the sudden immense pressure for dwelling places due to influx of refugees (50 years ago) had caused rampant filling up of wetlands and ponds in the city and its fringes'

Though a large number of families from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) have settled in the so-called low-lying underdeveloped areas of the city, they never filled up any ponds. Rather, many have taken special interest in preserving and maintaining the waterbodies in their respective localities. The ponds are the source of water for their various household activities and even of their employment.

Shankar Ghosh: But why has the Calcutta Municipal Corporation failed miserably in preventing the filling up of wetlands ' Over 1,000 ponds have been filled up in the past seven years.

An enactment can empower an authority to take action, but it cannot prevent filling up of wetlands effectively, unless there is proper awareness among people. Whenever an attempt or move to fill up a pond has come to our notice, we have taken immediate action.

According to our estimates, the total number of ponds in Calcutta in 1998 was around 4,500. Most of these ponds were in the Behala, Jadavpur, Beleghata and Cossipore areas.

Shashi Damani: I have heard about the story-telling museum at Town Hall. Can we hire guides if I visit the museum'

Except Mondays, the museum remains open daily from 11 am to 6 pm. An entry fee of Rs 10 per head is charged on weekdays and Rs 15 on Sundays. Guides are always available at the museum for free.

Shashi Damani: What plan have you drawn for the Calcutta City Museum to make it more attractive'

Calcutta Panorama is a story-telling museum. Currently, the trustee of the museum society is considering a proposal to turn it into a city museum, where historic specimens will be displayed as exhibits and visitors can get an in-depth knowledge about the city’s culture, heritage and lifestyle.

Lalit Singh Nahar: Most of the infrastructure development plans turn into crisis management plans with an approach of ad hocism. The Calcutta Environment Improvement Project (CEIP) funded by the Asian Development Bank and the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan are the best examples. Do you agree that these projects are just fund utilisation schemes'

I cannot comment on the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan. But the CEIP was not drawn up for the entire city. The northern and eastern fringes of the city and areas under the 41 wards of Behala, Garden Reach and Jadavpur will benefit immensely from the CEIP.

Arka Sen: As far as I know, no town planner has ever adorned the chair by qualification. Can you tell us whether you are director-general by designation or by education'

There was a post for a chief municipal architect and town planner in the British period. The post was recreated under the CMC Act, 1980, but the chair has always been occupied by an architect or a civil engineer.

And this is for the first time that the present Left Front board has appointed a qualified town planner.


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