Single and two-storeyed houses have recently mushroomed across East Kolkata Wetlands, irreversibly altering its character, endangering the biodiversity and threatening the prestigious Ramsar tag.
In moujas like Dhapa Manpur, Bhagabanpur, Kumar Pukuria, Tardaha Kapasati, Kheyadaha, Haatgachha and Beonta, hundreds of brick-and-mortar houses have cropped up in the past couple of years with the local administration turning a blind eye to blatant violation of legislations in place to protect and preserve the wetlands. Of the 264 bheris or fish farms, more than 64 have disappeared with land sharks in connivance with a section of local politicians, musclemen and cops.
The cop’s reluctance to act in the initial stages of construction has led to allegations of their tacit involvement in the land grab. Additionally, East Kolkata Wetland Management Authority’s failure to carry out spot inspections when they first receive complaints and the consequent delay in filing FIRs have emboldened land sharks to encroach further.
Not only have bheris been encroached upon, paddy fields and embankments between bheris have also been usurped to construct houses. “Once people begin living on the embankment, it is a matter of time before the adjoining wetlands are lost as solid waste is continuously dumped into the water,” said Dhruba Dasgupta, researcher and project director of Society for Creative Opportunities and Participatory Ecosystems that works extensively in EKW.
Activist Shantanu Chacraverti pointed to a graver problem. Most of the new houses are inhabited by those who are not traditional residents of EKW and have nothing to do with its waste water ecology. This has led to a demographic and situational problem. “Once you have a substantial EKW population that has nothing to do with EKW’s waste water ecology, you have a strong demographic component in the EKW that has no stake in preserving these wetlands and waterbodies. This corrodes the resistance — actual and potential — to the encroachment upon these wetlands. Further, this gradual and silent takeover by outsiders opens the way to further encroachment by both the relatively less affluent and by big promoters and realtors. Gradually, notwithstanding all the legal barriers, the EKW will be inevitably destroyed,” he pointed out.
Locals say the construction activity has received a fillip since the Bidhannagar civic elections in October 2015. “One of the new councillors has been openly grabbing land from settlers, first claiming that it was vested and then carrying out construction on them. With mayor and environment minister Sovon Chatterjee commenting that he wants illegal houses in EKW to be regularised so that civic bodies can earn revenue by way of house tax, it has given a fillip to encroachment and construction,” said Bimal Sarkar of Chhayanabhi village in Dhapa Manpur I mouja.