NOT A SINGLE BILL BOARD
The Shifting Priority in Land Use within the Protected Wetlands to
the East of Kolkata
Society for Creative Opportunities and Participatory Ecosystems
This document has been produced by SCOPE (Society for Creative Opportunities and Participatory Ecosystems).
Research Team: Dhruba Das Gupta, Dr Subhamita Chaudhuri, Dr Sudeshna Ghosh,
Dr Soma Sarkar (National Institute of Malaria Research),
Research Assistants: Sujit Mondal, Bapi Mondal
Task of conserving the East Kolkata Wetlands remains an enigma. It has communities of fishers, agriculturalists and the woebetide waste pickers who have one of the best knowledge in urban waste recycling in the world — both solid and sewage. Whereas, by an unethical turn of events they have their livelihood threatened. Interestingly, the competence of this unique community is well recognised and acknowledged in the academia.
Ostensibly, the wetland ecosystem has most of the major regulatory controls. It is a Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance, there is a rule to preserve the wetland (1992) subsequently superseded by an Act (2006). And yet there is not one signboard that indicates anything about the presence of the ecosystem that every Indian should take pride. The real estate was indicated as a threat way back in 1987, in an article ‘Ecological History of Calcutta’s Wetland Conversion’ (Ghosh and Sen, 1987). We now have engineering colleges, schools and educational institutions (even law schools) constructed upon illegally converted wetlands. Silently. These are visible. As an elementary step to thwart the deluge, what we needed was a meticulous research to study the precise extent of conversion over a substantive period.
The appropriate task would have been to study all the 32 mouzas that constitute the East Kolkata Wetlands. However, before the government takes up this task, we took up one mouza, one of the most densely populated in these wetlands and used to have one of the most expanded stretches of waterbodies. This is the Bhagabanpur mouza, located in South 24 Parganas district, for which ground truth verification was done for the status of all the plots in that mouza, plot numbers being obtained from the mouza maps and Schedule attached to the East Kolkata Wetlands (Management and Conservation) Act, 2006.
The report is about the results of this painstaking work. The work was done in a time series, spreading from 2002 when the wetlands entered the Ramsar list, then 2006 when they began to be governed by the EKWMA Act through 2016, and finally, the current situation. The conversion of land has been formidable, with waterbodies changing from 88 per cent in 2002 to 19 per cent in 2016 and corresponding change in full settlement area from 0.18 per cent to 13 per cent in 2016. The percentage of full waterbody area and full settlement area are close to each other. What is however of no less concern is the fading out of this unique knowledge of sewage purification through fish growing, spatial planning, analytical skills, approaches and methods, for which East Kolkata Wetlands is the only place in the world. Besides these, demographic changes have also been noticed, which indicate a rise in the settling of people who have no idea of wetland conservation in a manner the locals have.
While working on the Schedule, it was noticed that there were discrepancies in the features detected in the attributes of the plots on the satellite imagery in the map of 2006, and what the EKWMA Act described. This is a matter that needs rectification.
It is our earnest plea that the facts found in the report will have reasonable impact on the grammar of wetland governance and in turn the people of Kolkata, who are the main beneficiaries of this unique ecosystem. We shall wait in expectation.
Figure 5: Land use map of Bhagabanpur mouza (2016)