Work has begun to reclaim a 22-acre water body in the East Kolkata Wetlands that had been filled over the past two years and on a part of which a playground had been built.
The restoration of Bongheri bheri in the Dhapa mouza, when completed, will set a precedent and, sources in the government expressed the hope, act as a deterrent to those who fill water bodies inside the protected East Kolkata Wetlands.
Conversion of land use is not allowed inside the wetlands following an order of the high court in 1992.
The East Kolkata Wetlands has been classified into three parts — settlements, where human habitations are allowed; agricultural land; and water body.
An official of the state environment department said a water body existed till 2019 at the site that is being dug up.
After being tipped off about the filling up of the water body, officials checked satellite images and Google maps and found out that a water body existed at the site. “It seems the water body was filled from 2020,” said an official.
Bonani Kakkar, of the NGO People United for Better Living in Calcutta (PUBLIC), said they petitioned Calcutta High Court in 2021 seeking restoration of the water body.
“One of the members of PUBLIC first noticed that the water body had been filled up. Even after pointing it out to the East Kolkata Wetlands Management Authority (EKWMA), they did not take any action. It was then that we moved court,” Kakkar said.
An official said the high court asked the wetlands management authority to restore the water body.
The ongoing excavation work to reclaim the water body; (right, in picture by Gautam Bose) a notice about the restoration work put up by the environment department near the site
“We started digging up the site a little over 10 days ago. We have paid the Bidhannagar Municipal Corporation to restore the water body, which was spread across 22 acres,” said Kaliyamurthi Balamurugan, chief environment officer of the West Bengal government.
Officials in the environment department said they had received applications from an event management company, which wanted to undertake fishery projects on the land where the water body existed. Earlier, the company had also expressed willingness to build a resort at the site.
“The company is now saying they took the land on lease from its owners. They are claiming they had handed it to an individual, who was the sub-lessee. We are yet to verify the claim and have also not yet been able to track down the owners of the land. The mutation records are not updated,” said an official.
Officials in the department admitted that a number of water bodies in the East Kolkata Wetlands had been filled over the years.
The East Kolkata Wetlands were designated as Ramsar site — a tag earned by only a few water bodies across the world — primarily for their “wise use” of waste water.
Environmentalists said the 12,500-hectare wetlands serve as a natural sewage treatment plant for Kolkata.
The city’s sewage travels through the wetlands and gets naturally treated by exposure to sunlight before being drained into the Bidyadhari river.
“The wetlands have saved the city from spending crores of rupees in building sewage treatment plants,” said an environmentalist. The treated sewage water is also used in fisheries and for agriculture.