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World Environment Day

In my dad’s time there were 2 cars in our entire locality; now each flat has 2 cars: Mayor

Firhad Hakim reminisces how environment & climate have changed in city over the decades on World Environment Day and focuses on solutions

The Plurals News Network | Published 05.06.23, 12:06 PM
Kolkata mayor Firhad Hakim

Kolkata mayor Firhad Hakim

File photograph

Kolkata, rather its environment, has changed enormously since our childhood. The city had a different look compared to present concrete dominance and it was so green all around; with so many water bodies scattered within such spread and lush playgrounds. No wonder, Kolkata (Calcutta at that time) was once called the ‘city of gardens’; and the jewel in the crown was Eden Gardens, which also looked so different with greenery spread around. Incidentally, I remember that my father, seeing Bobby Simpson playing in Eden Gardens, became such a fan of his that he had chosen the nickname ‘Bobby’ for me!

Coming back to the environment of old time, even in our Chetla area of south Kolkata; there were huge green verges around, and I still remember that many of our friends went to see the shooting of famous Bengali film Bancharamer Bagan within one such verge. In fact, during the 1980s when loadshedding became a household name and power cut was the norm rather than exception; we often were used to spending evenings and even part of the night on the green spaces around.

Dense greenery in a certain pocket of the city a few decades back

Dense greenery in a certain pocket of the city a few decades back


However, things started to change quickly after the 1971 Bangladesh War as the refugees swarmed the city. Shanties, jhupries in local parlance, came over virtually everywhere in the city eating into the green spread and the water bodies. Along with the population explosion, and lack of people’s lack of awareness about the need to preserve the city’s environment; the promoting and realty raj started to work in tandem and nearly 3,500 water bodies got filled up in city during the Left Front era, particularly in added areas of the city like Behala, Jadavpur and Metiabruz.

I cannot deny that environmental violations are still happening in the city; but we are trying to act. We, in KMC, are trying to chase every complaint; and I personally have asked the police to act immediately. I sincerely believe that air pollution and climate change has become a major curse for the city; and, we should not want to leave a city for the next generation where they will have money; but not the fresh air to breathe; where they will have multiple cars but not be fit enough to travel. Unfortunately, unlike Mumbai or Chennai, we are not a coastal city and do not have the luxury of natural filtration of air; and we are further aggravating the crisis ourselves. Talking about cars, I still remember that during my father’s time there were two cars in the entire Chetla neighbourhood. Now almost every flat has two cars!

Climate change has also become a major threat; and we have all seen how several cyclones have impacted the city grievously in recent times. Several international reports have clearly underlined how it would become even worse in future unless we start to act now. What is most important to acknowledge is that climate change and air pollution are impacting the poor people, the slum dwellers and squatters, most; and almost one third of our city population live in such habitats. Since becoming the mayor last time, I am trying to prioritise the environmental issues as civil governance is no more about only roads, water, and housing. When I went to Copenhagen in an international environmental meeting sometime back, I saw how the city centralised the climate concerns in its planning and execution.

There is no doubt that the thing, being environment and climate friendly, is more difficult for a chance directed and chance erected city like Kolkata, with its historical planning problems, but we need to try. In Kolkata Municipal Corporation, we are trying several things but often feel that we may be chasing the shadow; and hence need experts’ advice to take steps in the proper direction. Last year, with the support of a few expert organisations we made a pledge to cut fossil fuel use for green and renewable power; but now is the time to turn the pledge into practice. Today, during World Environment Day, we will be announcing the initiation of the work on Kolkata’s Climate Action Plan with frontline experts of the country. I requested the experts that the plan should be prepared as quickly as scientifically feasible; so that we can start to implement it for the people of Kolkata. This is a major challenge and we should be up to it; as I talk on this World Environment Day; I feel that all of us, the people of Kolkata, should collectively take on this challenge; perhaps the biggest of our time.

Last updated on 05.06.23, 05:47 PM

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