Mayor wants bird park-zoo on wetlands, a Ramsar site

Feb 01 2017 : The Times of India (Kolkata)

Green Activists See Red Over `Eco Travesty'

If mayor SovanChatterjee has his way, Kolkata will get a combo version of Singapore's Jurong Bird Park and Bangkok's Safari World, the site having already been identified and a report on the proposed project submitted.

While the proposal is sure to set citizens abuzz with excitement, ecologists and environmentalists are seething over the choice of location within the East Kolkata Wetlands (EKW), a designated Ramsar site that enjoys international recognition. Chatterjee, who is also the environment minister, told TOI on Tuesday he wished to create an eco park that would go way beyond Hidco's facility in New Town. To be developed by the KMC, it will try to amalgamate features of Jurong Bird Park and Safari World, which impressed Chatterjee on his visit to Singapore and Thailand.

It was way back in May 2006, immediately after he became the environment minister, that Chatterjee hit upon the idea of using the 300-acre “prime“plot.Located between Captain Bheri and Dhapa Road to the east of EM Bypass, he considered it perfect for a zoo-cum-amuzement park. Soon, the authorities roped in a consultant, which submitted a report on the animals that can be housed there.Once the civic body gets the statutory clearances--officials believe the nod will be a mere formality given that Chatterjee holds all the key briefs of mayor and environment minister--a global tender will be floated for a public-private partnership to implement the project.

A KMC official confirmed top civic officials had already surveyed the area and work would begin as soon as the project received the chief minister's nod. KMC also needs the approval of EKW Management Authority (EKWMA). “Not only will it have captive animals, it will also have a habitat that will draw migratory birds,“saidChatterjee, adding care would be taken to maintain the wetland's ecological balance.

But alarmed over the attempt to encroach upon the Ramsar site, environmentalists said the move could sound the death knell for the wetlands. Even some environment officials are uneasy about its implications.

A K Ghosh, former member of Ramsar Scientific Tech nical Advisory Committee who led the Indian delegation to the Ramsar Convention in Japan in 1993, said an amusement park was unheard of at a Ramsar site. “The mayor should be proud to have a Ramsar site in such close proximity to the city .He should promote an educational interpretation centre to spread awareness about the wetland's ecological resource and value,“ said Ghosh. EKWMA 'sBonaniKakkar, who had paved the way for the wetland's preservation, said an eco park in the true sense was welcome but a zoo was not a bright idea.“If the place can be designated for marshy birds, it will be great. In the '60s, bird species found at EKW was similar to that at Bharatpur. BiswamoyBiswas, scientist emeritus at Zoological Survey of India had proposed the area be declared as a sanctuary ,“she said.

Ecologist DhrubajyotiGhosh, who was instrumental in the wetlands being recognised a Ramsar site, said the management could not give the proposal a go-ahead as it would mean changing the land use.“Any change in land use at a Ramsar site is a strict no-no.During the Raj, the land had been given to KMC for dumping solid waste,“ he said. 


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WORLD WETLANDS DAY - City faces `renal failure' as plastic chokes wetlands

Feb 03 2017 : The Times of India (Kolkata)


Smothered by plastic refuse, the sprawling East Kolkata Wetlands that kept the city from choking for centuries is gasping for breath. Plastic waste dumps that start on Topsia Road run uninterrupted along the Basanti Expressway for 10 long kilometers, penetrating deep into the heart of EKW whose fragile ecology warrants extreme care. Listed as wetland of international importance under Unesco'sRamsar Convention, the wetlands, which act as the kidneys of the city by naturally treating its sewage, should have been a pride for Kolkata. Instead, it is considered a wasteland.

As TOI drove through EKW on World Wetlands Day, the landscape that was once dotted with waterbodiesensconsed in verdant green was singed and scarred. Tonnes of plastic -from cement bags to toothpaste tubes -are dumped in hundreds of illegal sheds that house plastic garbage, each handling 500kg a day .They get truckloads of plastic refuse that is sorted and sold to illegal processing units that have also cropped up in EKW. The plastic is melted at night to produce noodle-like strands that are shipped to plastic bag manufacturing units. Some units also melt hard plastic to create granules used to make articles like mugs and toys.

“So powerful is the mafia connection in the illegal trade that transportation, stocking and sifting of plastic waste is carried out in full public glare during the day. The only activity done under the cover of darkness is the melting process when toxic plumes are released. We keep our windows shut but still feel choked,“said a youth at Lalkuthi, which has several such units.

The air hangs heavy. There is a nauseating smell of burnt plastic punched with stench of animal hide scraps processed in open ovens. Some locals have dared to go to Anandapur police station to complain. They have also approached local MLA Javed Khan.

The MLA pleads helplessness. “I am aware the units are a nuisance and have asked the police to act. But the reality is that they continue to function illegally.”

Incidentally, mushrooming of illegal recycling units coincides with the shift from open garbage dumps to compactor stations and the displacement of ragpickers who sorted plastic, as well as metal, glass, paper and leather, from the sites. A major chunk of the 5,000-odd rag-pickers have shifted to Dhapa where they now struggle to break down the compact garbage to extract the recyclables.

Ecologist DhrubajyotiGhosh, whose book `The Trash Diggers' talks about the people who do the dirty job working barefoot, but with a positive ecological footprint, suspects the ragpickers' arrival at Dhapa could have led to the mushrooming of units along the highway that runs parallel to Dhapa Road.

The ignored and often trashed ragpickers have recently been included in the State Assisted Scheme of Provident Fund for Unrecognised Workers. But with no check on units that exploit their labour, the city's most precious wealth is under a pressing threat.