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A Case Of Urban Argiculture

East Kolkata Wetlands Face Danger

A letter to the Environment Minister, Government of West Bengal to save historic site of East Kolkata Wetlands

Respected Environment Minister,

Having toured and filmed the East Kolkata Wetlands to teach my students about a geographical marvel, what I learned about the wetlands and its risks draws me to write to you. It took me by complete surprise to find in The Times of India editions of 10th and 11th of June that these wetlands—the only ones in the world on such a scale—faces the greatest risk from the very department that worked to earn it the Ramsar status. This must be a cruel twist of fate.

I request you, as the public face of this department, to kindly take note of the following facts:
1) The East Kolkata Wetlands was discovered and its wise use practices documented as a result of a mandate by the State Planning Board. The responsibility may have been given to one official but it was a formal mandate—to find out whether and how wastewater from the city could be re-used. Once enquiry brought the beneficial aspects of these wetlands to the fore, it was subsequently established before experts from the Government of India and all over the world. Then the department took the case forward to Ramsar. There was no arbitrariness in the process.

2) The drainage pattern of Kolkata and the wastewater re-use practices where nutrient is recovered in successive steps for fishery, vegetable and paddy cultivation—are the criteria that formed the basis of the map of the East Kolkata Wetlands. I am happy to let you know that this was the first example of participatory wetland mapping in India. This was the first example of participator wetland mapping in India that the present government so emphatically talks about, especially the panchayet department. This is a fact that deserves to be discussed proudly.

This map was also upheld by the Honourable High Court in a nationally acclaimed judgment that laid the foundation of wetland cases in India. That is another piece of history.

3) Dhapa's farmers are legendary. There are State Planning Board reports in the mid-eighties that describe their work and that of their illustrious but now forgotten mentor, Sri Bhabanath Sen (predecessor of former Governor Shyamal Sen). In 1880 Sri Sen started over the Dhapa Square Mile the earliest example in the world of vegetable farming on a garbage substrate by the side of a city. This is a rare example of urban agriculture—organic input-based and climate-friendly to boot—where the city's organic waste was constantly recycled. This stellar practice has been on the wane and is in need for revival. It also solves in part the city's waste disposal problem. This is a rare heritage that has hardly been showcased to the world whereas this is something the citizens of Kolkata should justly be proud of.

4) Newspapers reports over the past few days are awash with data to quantify the ecosystem services that these wetlands provide. To add to that scientific research has repeatedly established that these wetlands have survived because of the sound science and inimitable engineering practices associated with them. They are effortlessly carried out by a community who may not have the trappings of a formal education, but have the powers of observation and skill sets that are possessed by no other fishing community anywhere in the world.

I entreat you, with many other fellow travellers, to retain the character of these wetlands. In doing so, you will proudly be remembered to have preserved the city's natural capital and ecological subsidy for posterity.

Respectfully Yours,
Sudeshna Ghosh, Geography Teacher

Frontier
Vol. 48, No. 52, Jul 3 - 9, 2016