On World Water Day 2017, the East Kolkata Wetlands has been flagged by the UN as one of the two most outstanding wetlands in the world for wastewater treatment, the other being in Kampala, Uganda. The knowledge of wastewater treatment, uniquely, lies with a community of wetland people and that too since the turn of the century.
East Kolkata Wetlands upholds the earliest known co-recycling practice (both solid waste and sewage) in the world. Let us know a little bit more about it.
Fig 1: Map of EKW accepted by Ramsar authorities
In India, wetlands have received inadequate attention in the national water sector agenda (Bassi et al, 2014) and have often been drained and transformed by anthropogenic activities like unplanned urban and agricultural development, industries, road construction, impoundment, resource extraction, and dredge disposal causing substantial long-term economic and ecological loss. Yet an exception is the unique East Kolkata Wetlands, spread over 12,500 hectares, using city sewage to grow fish, vegetables and paddy in successive resource recovery practices. It is the only Ramsar site in India to be recognised for its wise use. Its uniqueness is growing of fish in shallow ponds that receive wastewater from the core Kolkata city’s wards through the city’s outfall channels everyday. (Link to Webpage)
The East Kolkata Wetlands and Waste Recycling Region also co-recycles the city’s solid waste, mainly by the odd population of waste pickers that manually engage in this task at Dhapa, the city’s garbage dump site, everyday. They come from the villages surrounding the dump site.
The triumph of this waste management system is the fact that it is the community that has driven the wetland management system and sustained it for many decades, without waiting for the authorities to be responsible for its upkeep. However, today this vital ecosystem faces a crisis due to the lack of necessary attention of the administrative and governance requirements for its maintenance.
[Ref.- Bassi, N, M. Dinesh Kumar, Anuradha Sharma, P. Pardha-Saradhi (2014). Status of wetlands in India: A review of extent, ecosystem benefits, threats and management strategies in Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies]
Water Hyacinth Lacing at EKW
MAJOR EVENTS IN HISTORY
On 17th May 1879, the first ever contract was made by any municipal body with a contractor for the purpose of using city garbage for growing vegetables. Sri Bhabanath Sen was invited by Mr. Metcalfe ICS, the then Commissioner of Calcutta Corporation and awarded a lease for Dhapa Square mile (a Crown Grant) for 20 years initially. Sri Sen used to grow vegetables upon a unique landform he designed comprising alternate rows of elongated water bodies and adjacent highlands, which in fact was a garbage substrate.
The lease was renewed for a prolonged period of Corporation history.
Earliest reference of sewage fed fisheries after the Dhapa experience. Sri Bibhuti Bhushan Ghosh seems to have innovated a perennial system of wastewater fisheries (unlike the Dhapa fisheries which needed drying up twice a year), a model which has been led into disuse.
Sewage outfall of the city was changed from south-east to east, to the Kulti Gong or Kulti River. This was a necessity as the Bidyadhari River had died.
Salt Lake reclamation for the extension of city led to large scale conversion of wetlands.
Construction of the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass.
West Bengal State Planning Board released the East Calcutta Wetland and Waste Recycling
Region map covering 12500 hectares.
Institute of Wetland Management and Ecological Design was set up by the Government of
West Bengal as an autonomous unit.
Earliest publication on ecological history of wetland conversion in a leading international journal (Environmental Conservation, Vol. 14, No. 3)
UN Global 500 Laureate award goes for conservation activities on East Kolkata Wetlands.
Calcutta High Court judgment disallows any change of land use within the 12,500 hectare wetland boundary without the approval of the Calcutta High Court obtained in each case.
Publication of Base Line Document for Management Action Plan as per Ramsar Convention guidelines
East Calcutta Wetlands comprising 32 mouzas was included in the Ramsar list, covering 12500 hectares.
Setting up of East Kolkata Wetland Management Authority (EKWMA).
Ministry of Environment and Forests released guidelines for managing wetlands which disallowed any discharge of wastewater into the wetlands (the way it happens in the EKW).
On World Water Day 2017, UN declares the East Kolkata Wetlands as one of the two most outstanding in the world where wastewater is being treated.