Plea to regularise East Calcutta Wetlands road
The environment department, whose responsibility it is to protect the East Calcutta Wetlands, has appealed to the Union ministry to consider as “a special case” a road cutting through Munshir Bheri to connect Sector V with the other end of the sprawling water body.
The eastern zonal bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had directed the environment department a year ago “to take appropriate steps to remove all illegal structures” on Munshir Bheri, which effectively meant the demolition of the road constructed by the Nabadiganta Industrial Township Authority (NDITA) in violation of wetland rules.
The environment department has now written to the Centre, requesting it to consider construction of the road “favourably … as a special case” and sought post facto regularisation of the violation.
Wetland activists warned that such clearance, if given, would open the floodgates for new violations by the government and private sectors in the name of public interest.
The wetlands are protected by a Calcutta High Court order, Ramsar norms and also the latest Union government norms on wetlands.
The NDITA had earlier sent a proposal to the East Kolkata Wetlands Management Authority, the legal authorities that look after the wetlands. “The chairman, NDITA, has sent a proposal to member secretary, EKWMA, for post facto approval for the works done by them in the greater public interest at Munshir Bheri in the East Kolkata Wetland area … we would be grateful if the proposal sent by NDITA is favourably considered as a special case of public interest under Rule 4 of the Wetlands (conservation and Management) Rules, 2017,” wrote Indevar Pandey, the state environment secretary and member secretary of EKWMA, to the Union secretary in the ministry of environment, forest and climate change on October 3. A copy of the letter is with Metro.
The rule cited in the letter empowers the environment ministry to regularise violations within designated wetland areas.
A day after, on October 4, Niraj Singhal, the chief technical officer of the wetlands authority, had written to the NDITA chairman asking “to remove the works done in the Munshir Bheri of East Kolkata Wetlands … within 8th October, 2018, and send a compliance report to this Department” referring the October 25, 2017, order of National Green Tribunal.
Neither Pandey nor Singhal was available for comment. Several phone calls from Metro went unanswered.
Munshir Bheri, adjacent to Ring Road and further up from Nalban in Sector V, was just another sprawling water body within the East Calcutta Wetlands three years ago. The only way of communication was a barely walkable raised mud edge within the water bodies — aal in local parlance. Now, that barely walkable mud edge has turned into a nearly 10 feet wide road linking Polenite, an added area, through which heavy vehicles have already started moving.
Environmentalists point out that once the road becomes fully functional, it will take a toll on the local ecosystem.
The wetlands authority, which has appealed to the Union government for regularisation of the illegal road, had earlier alerted the National Green Tribunal that the road in Munsir Bheri was illegal.
The latest wetlands rules allow only the Union government to regularise violations within Ramsar sites such as the East Calcutta Wetlands. Green activists, however, pointed out that the wetlands off the Bypass are also protected by a high court order that bars any change of land use within the wetlands as well as international norms that come with Ramsar listing.
“We find it shocking that a senior official of the government has sought permission to waive the law when his office is the one responsible for implementing the act,” said Bonani Kakkar of People United for Better Living in Calcutta (PUBLIC), which had filed a public interest litigation in the green tribunal against the construction of the road.
“If the violation is regularised, it will open up possibilities for many such violations in the area; including the proposed flyover cutting through the wetlands,” said Naba Datta of green platform Sabuj Mancha.