KOLKATA, 13 MARCH: About 33 water bodies in the Ramsar-protected East Kolkata Wetlands were filled illegally for the construction of the Newtown-Rajarhat Township.
A letter (No. Hidco/planning 13/99) dated 19 November, 1999, written by the erstwhile managing director of Hidco, West Bengal, Mr Sanjay Mitra, to the secretary of the fisheries department, sought permission for relaxation of the provision of Inland Fisheries Act, 1984 and West Bengal Inland Fisheries (Amendment) Act, 1993 for filling up of waterbodies for the implementation of the New Town Calcutta Project. Permission to fill 33 waterbodies were sought. “When I joined the department as deputy director, I started a survey in Rajarhat area. The area had a very unique ecosystem with 53 species of fish that bred there naturally. I had prepared the project report and Hidco was not given the permission to fill even one waterbody there,” said Ms Madhumita Mukherjee, director of state fisheries department.
The state housing minister, Mr Gautam Deb, had claimed that the project area doesn’t fall in the limits of East Kolkata Wetland. However, according to the Geological Society of India, geographical coordinates for East Kolkata Wetland is 22 degree 40 minutes North/22 degree 25 minutes North (latitude) and 88 degree 22 minutes East/88 degrees 35 minutes East (longitude). According to the project report of a technical committee constituted by the state housing department in May 1994, the coordinates of the Newtown Township is 22 degrees 38 minutes North/22 degree 34 minutes North (latitude) and 88 degree 26 minutes East/88 degree 30 minutes East (longitute). This means that the project area falls within the perimeters of East Kolkata Wetland. Ms Mukherjee said: “Wetland doesn’t mean only water bodies. It is the whole ecology and the biodiversity that is needed to be taken into consideration. It takes 30 years for a new waterbody to develop the ecology.” It should be noted that the state department of environment had instructed the housing department through a letter dated 10 November, 1999 that necessary clearance should be taken from the fisheries department for filling up of any water body exceeding five cottahs. The 33 water bodies that were filled by the Hidco without permission from the fisheries department ranged from 6.05 cottahs to 114.95 cottahs.
Contrary to what Ms Mukherjee said, Mr Deb, in a press conference, had said that the Wetland was on the verge of destruction and that the fisheries department and the East Kolkata Wetland Management Authorities had requested the minister to revive the area.