Manas Bhunia, the new state environment minister who took charge on Friday, identified air pollution and degradation of rivers and canals as the greatest challenges faced by the department.
Bhunia, given the environment department during the latest cabinet reshuffle, has replaced Ratna De (Nag). He is also the minister for water resources investigation.
“If you go to Delhi, Kanpur and Lucknow, the air pollution is so high that your white dress turns black within an hour … Kolkata is not far behind,” Bhunia told The Telegraph.
The minister identified the introduction of more electric and natural gas-operated buses and the scrapping of vehicles for more than 15 years as major steps to combat air pollution in the city and state.
“I will definitely discuss with my officials to find the way out,” said Bhunia when this newspaper referred to the state Pollution Control Board’s data that pointed out that other districts, alongside Kolkata, are also getting increasingly polluted.
“PCB officials said that there are already few identified polluted cities, called non-attainment cities, like Kolkata; Howrah; Asansol; Durgapur and Haldia where specific programmes are undertaken. I have asked them to explore whether Kharagpur can be added to that list as several pollution complaints are also coming from that area,” said the minister after meeting the officials.
Bhunia also promised to monitor each environment-related information and complaint closely and act as required. “We will not just react, but respond too,” said the minister, promising to work in unison with other departments like industry, health, urban development and panchayat.
“The rivers are also getting polluted. When I was irrigation minister for one year and 13 days, I started a process of studying the rivers,” added Bhunia.
“I do not want to talk about politics here but it’s a fact that earlier governments had given patta (land right) on all kinds of places, including char (river bed),” added the new minister.
“We feel that he should prioritise actions on key issues like air pollution, river degradation, noise pollution particularly DJ menace as well as East Kolkata Wetlands conservation,” said a representative of environment platform Sabuj Mancha; reminding that none of the environment ministers during Trinamul regime has completed his or her full tenure.