Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said last Saturday: “Politicians are now compelled to consider ecological issues around them. If we don’t act now, Nature will take its revenge.”
Metro tracks the government’s performance on key environmental issues to ascertain Bengal’s vulnerability to nature’s revenge.
Calcutta takes our breath away — thanks to the foul fumes, of course. In 2003, the government announced its plans to phase out polluting commercial vehicles from city streets. Introduction of alternative fuel was pledged before the Supreme Court in 2001.
Till now, the government has failed to slam the brakes on old vehicles and there are just about nine idle LPG pumps in town. Hardly 2,000 autorickshaws and 4,000 four-wheelers have converted to LPG, out of a total vehicular count of 10-lakh-plus.
As a result, Calcutta continues to rank higher than the other metros on the auto emission scales.
According to the state pollution control board, the annual average of respirable particulate matter (RPM) — the most potent pollutant penetrating the inner layers of lungs — at 16 different points in city was way above the national standard of 60 micron per cubic metre and ranged between 80 and 120 micron per cubic metre in 2005-06. This is particularly damaging for children who breathe in the poison air.
Various studies have revealed the impact of vehicular pollution on the health of the Calcuttan. In 1995, a World Bank study recorded 5,000-plus deaths in Calcutta every year due to air pollution and toxic fumes from vehicles. Incidence of lung cancer among males has also been highest in Calcutta, pointed out a Chittaranjan National Cancer Research Institute study in 1999.
“Calcutta’s share in the country’s lung cancer count among men was around 18 per cent. The percentage has also been growing steadily among women,” said a researcher.
In 2003, Calcutta High Court gave fairs the marching orders from the Maidan. Advocate-general Balai Roy promised the court that Book Fair 2006 would be the last one on the Maidan.
Last week, the chief minister took a U-turn and made it clear that the Maidan was, is and will be the site for a permanent Book Fair ground.
“A city needs minimum 15 to 20 per cent open space, including greenery, but in Calcutta, it was less than one per cent even in 2000. Things have worsened in the past few years and yet the government wants a permanent fairground on the lungs of the city,” said green activist Subhas Dutta.
The annual mess on the Maidan will cost Calcutta dear, warn environmentalists.
Not just the lungs, Calcutta’s kidneys are also under threat. The East Calcutta Wetlands, off the EM Bypass, have always been regarded as a great ecological gift to Calcutta for naturally treating waste water. “The wetlands not only treat waste water, they are also a source of vegetables and fish and an important reason behind the low cost of living index in Calcutta,” said wetland expert Dhrubojyoti Ghosh. Yet, the Bhattacharjee government has done precious little to protect the Ramsar site. It remains easy pickings for land sharks, in the absence of policy or policing.
In Bhattacharjee’s Bengal, the convention is for every tree felled, five new ones have to be planted. But the rules have not yet been finalised and so trees are being felled here, there, everywhere. “The obvious impact will be change in temperature and climate profile, and huge loss of biodiversity,” said an environment activist.