A Government Authority led by Chief Secretary of West Bengal, has lodged more than 200 FIRs with four police stations in last few years against illegal encroachment of wetlands but police has taken action in one case only so far.
FIRs were lodged by East Kolkata Wetland Management Authority against illegal encroachment of wetlands. Union Minister of State for Urban Development Saugata Roy, whose party is in power in the state, could not believe it when a member of the Authority admitted this during a seminar on Kolkata’s Water-Sewage situation. He wondered, “Police ignores FIRs lodged by Chief Secretary’s Committee!”
Ramsar site East Kolkata wetlands is real blessings the city has. According to Sunitha Narain of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the first blessing Kolkata has is its own river Ganga and the second is the city’s eastward slope takes its sewer system to East Kolkata Wetlands which treats it in natural process and the third blessing Kulti-Gong in the east of wetlands that carries the sewer to sea.
Releasing a CSE study “Excreta matters – the 7th State of India’s Environment Report, she demanded that these wetlands must be protected. “The wetlands save the city an estimated Rs 400 crore a year in water treatment cost, handling 810 million litters a day of wastewater. They support nearly 40,000 people helping them produce over 8000 tonnes of fish annually and 150 tonnes of vegetable every day.”
Warning that the city is going to face ‘deliberate hydrocide’ in future, she said that the ever expanding city is banking on over-withdrawal of ground-water which is established by the presence of excessive percentage of arsenic and nitrate in city’s water. Kolkata Municipal Corporation claims supplying per capita 224 kilo liter water per day (KLD) while actual supply is 135 KLD. Rest of the water is lost through leakages in pipelines. The larger chunk of Kolkata Metropolitan Area is served by about 1070 tubewells as per official estimates, but unofficial estimates place the number of tubewells at over 6,000.
The city's current sewage system, designed for a rainfall of 6 mm/hour, is inadequate, terms Narain adding, “The city generates 1100 MLD of sewage (734 MLD as per Central Pollution Control Board) and have just three (3) sewage treatment plants (STPs) with a combined capacity of 125 MLD. What remains to be treated is really gargantuan.” Only 60 per cent of the trunk sewers in the city's core area are silted up, which is now being revamped with the ADB funded Kolkata Environment Improvement Projects. Most of these are more than 150 years old. The pumping system is in a similarly decrepit state as spares for older pumps are not available, the CSE study added.
The East Kolkata wetlands have been processing this huge untreated sewage for centuries together through natural eco-fishery system and drain out treated water in the sea. But unscientific growth of the city towards its hinterland in east and south, despite vehement objections from environment scientists and activists, is bound to kill the city. To protect these wetlands, the erstwhile government, at the fag end of its tenure, had established the East Kolkata Wetland Management Authority as a constitutional body led by the Chief Secretary. But police-builders-politicians’ nexus is so powerful that even 200-plus FIRs remain unattended.
Releasing the 7th Report ‘Excreta Matters’, Governor of West Bengal M K Narayanan said, “Governmental and non-governmental intervention is essential in conserving water resource and treat wastes. The world wars of future would be fought for water and hence it is only commonsense and no nuclear science to work for sustainable development.” Analysing the water supply and sewage system of 71 Indian cities pains a gory picture. It unveils the real unequal system of water distribution in cities tilted towards ‘haves’ and deprive ‘Have-nots’. One such example is New Delhi where NDMC area gets 461 litres per person/per day, Narela gets only 31 litres. “This inequality forces people to tap ground water more leading to over-withdrawal and contamination of groundwater”, said CSE Director General Sunitha Narain.
Even Gurgaon — the millennium city — have no water supply or sewage system. People discharge their sewage and night soil towards mail sewage canal which contaminates ground water and again people taps that ground water for drinking water. Narain termed this an act of ‘deliberate hydrocide’. The report reveals that only 22 per cent of waste generated in these 71 cities is actually treated while 78 percent untreated waste chocks vital rivers. “Najafgarh Nala was actually Sahibi River flowing from Aravali to Najafgarh Lake. The Mithi Nallah of Mumbai was actually Mithi River. Buddha Nala of Ludhiana was actually Dariya River”, she revealed.
Demanding a Land and Water Conservation Board, member of Planning Commission committees Narain urged Saugata Roy to allocate fund in next plan for Sewerage system, not for water supply projects. She also urged to make Water harvesting must for all the cities to save the nation. In presence of Saugata Roy, whose party supremo Mamata Banerjee is dead against charging cost for water supply, Narain said, “Water must be charged through meters to minimise waste.”