Wetlands curbs tightened
The state government has imposed curbs on "sale, purchase and change of character' of plots within the East Calcutta Wetlands, off EM Bypass, to prevent unauthorised construction and other activities that are harmful for its ecology. The order specifying the curbs was issued on February 29 by M.L.Meena, the principal secretary in the state environment department and member-secretary of East Calcutta Wetlands Authority. It came into force immediately. The wetlands, spread across 12,500 hectares, have been declared a "no-development' zone by Calcutta High Court. But there are often complaints of violation of the ruling. "A large number of unauthorised structures are coming up in the wetlands, violating environment norms and creating ecological imbalance. There are also reports of other unlawful commercial activities in the zone,' said Meena, explaining the rationale for issuing the order. The order bars "transfer (of) land to any person or persons in any manner through deed of sale or providing lease or tenancy right' without "prior clearance of East Calcutta Wetlands Authority'. The authority was set up under the chairmanship of the chief secretary in 2006 to preserve the character of the wetlands. The land and land reforms department has been asked "not to issue any certificate for the change of the character of land', while those dealing with registration have been been directed "not to allow registration of any land, house or pond' without the authority's consent. Similarly, the municipal or panchayat bodies have been debarred from sanctioning plans of buildings to be used for commercial purposes, keeping the authority in the dark. "If anyone wants to transfer plots within the East Calcutta Wetlands, he/she has to approach the member-secretary of the authority, who will decide on the applications within two months,' said Biswajit Mukherjee, a senior law officer in the state environment department. Environmentalists, however, are sceptical about implementation of the order. "The idea is good but will it work?' wondered Dhrubojyoti Ghosh, who was the first to document the ecological role of the wetlands. "There are numerous instances of landfill in the Ramsar zone but the violators have all gone scot-free, despite the high court ruling. Any day, you can find middlemen involved in land transfer in the wetlands,' he pointed out. "A number of big housing estates and a college have come up within the wetlands. And there are quite a few smaller violations. But the government has done nothing to honour the judicial verdict,' said another green activist.