The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Realty rape of Ramsar site
- Minister in dark, promoters get nod for estate on wetlands

The Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government, despite all its tall talk to the contrary, is out to alter the character of the East Calcutta Wetlands.

A sustained bid to legalise two real estate projects on the Wetlands — declared a “no-development zone” by Calcutta High Court — came through last month, with the chief secretary-headed authority looking after the Ramsar site issuing a clearance to them.

Land and land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah, who had moved court against the promoters of the projects, Sanjeevani and Green Valley, was kept in the dark on the matter. The minister said on Sunday he would order a probe to know why and how the projects were cleared.

The East Calcutta Wetlands Management Authority, headed by chief secretary Amit Kiran Deb, issued the approval on October 23 on condition that the promoters would “maintain and improve the local environment and surroundings and either pay an amount for making an equal area of waterbody or specify land within the East Calcutta Wetlands area for creation of compensatory waterbodies”.

The Supreme Court, which was hearing the case relating to the two housing projects, disposed of the matter in mid-November after the government stated it stand.

The promoters had moved the apex court against a high court order which stated that the “demolition and nothing short of it is the only solution to restore the already-affected waterbody”.

The high court ruling was on a petition by Mollah’s department, which had alleged that the promoters of the two projects had altered the character of the waterbody.

“After hearing about the Supreme Court order, I demanded to know what had happened. Only then did I get the minutes of the meeting conveying the authority’s clearance. The authority has taken the decision without any consultation with my department. This is very strange, as my department was party to the case both in the high court and the Supreme Court,” pointed out Mollah.

An earlier move by the environment department to legalise the projects — by notifying the plots as “urban/rural settlement” in the East Calcutta Wetlands Bill, 2006 — was foiled after Metro published a series of reports, highlighting how the move was in violation of an order of the high court, that no construction would be allowed at the internationally-recognised waste-recycling region. Mollah, too, had opposed the bill.

The bill was finally changed and the project areas in Dhapa, Manpur and Kochpukur mouzas were included in the “substantial waterbodies” category before being passed in the Assembly.

Stating its stand on the matter, the authority recorded in the minutes of the October 23 meeting: “The land in question had changed its nature through natural growth over the years and has become a high land.”

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