An environment activist was allegedly assaulted at the East Calcutta Wetlands on Saturday while trying to film an alleged attempt to plant dead fish laced with poison into the shallow water bodies.
The fish is food for resident and migratory birds which flock to the wetlands in winter. Within minutes of eating a poisoned fish, a bird becomes weak and easy prey for humans.
The practice is common this time of the year, when water is pumped out of many bheris (water bodies used for rearing fish).
On Saturday, Suvrajyoti Chatterjee of the NGO, Human and Environment Alliance League, visited the Goalbari bheri in the wetlands with his driver and a colleague.
“We went there around 5.15pm and saw a young man with a basket of dead fish. He was accompanied by a few others. One of them was trying to catch an egret,” said Chatterjee.
He was allegedly accosted when he tried to film the men. “They tried to snatch my phone and slapped, punched and kicked me,” Chatterjee said.
Another group of residents rushed to their help and stopped the alleged attackers.
Chatterjee has lodged a police complaint.
The wetlands, spanning 12,500 hectares, receive and treat a bulk of Calcutta’s sewage every day. Declared a Ramsar site in 2002, the wetlands provide livelihood opportunities to a large number of people through the production of fish and vegetables.
The practice of planting poisoned fish in the shallow waters to catch birds is not new, said activists.
“Even 10 years ago, this was prevalent. When I saw a person catching a dazed bird, I was wondering how someone could eat a bird that just ate poisoned fish. But the man cut open the bird with a knife and removed a sack from its stomach with a surgeon’s precision,” said Banani Kakkar, the co-founder of the NGO, People United for Better Living in Calcutta (PUBLIC).
“The wetlands are a Ramsar site. It means the wetlands ought to be a safe passage for migratory birds. What is happening there is poaching of birds,” said Kakkar.
“What happened is illegal and unfortunate…. We are working with the police,” said K. Balamurugan, the chief technical officer of the East Calcutta Wetlands Management Authority.