Thursday, May 24, 2012

Land sharks gobble up 80-cottah pond

TNN | May 24, 2012, 05.03AM IST

KOLKATA: Encroachment of waterbodies continues unabated. After a pond was filled up in Dum Dum and another in Nonadanga late last year, land sharks have struck yet again – this time in the city proper - filling up an 80-cottah waterbody to construct residential high rises. The encroached pond is at 51A Canal Circular Road behind Apollo Gleneagles Hospital in east Kolkata.

The controversial plot, that locals say rippled with water till three to four months ago, has now been filled up with earth. Though some claimed that the 80-cottah 'land' in question was a low-lying area where water accumulated during monsoon, giving the impression of a waterbody, others disputed it in hushed tones and informed that a pond had existed there for years. Sources said both muscle and money had played a part in suppressing voices in the neighbourhood.

The presence of shanties housing washermen is the only evidence of a 'waterbody'. In south Kolkata, too, washermen live in a cluster around a pond off Pramathesh Barua Sarani. "With the pond at Canal Circular Road now gone, the washermen have to make do with water from a well," said washerwoman Uma Razak.

It was a local resident who alerted environment activist Subhas Datta about the encroachment. The latter went on a recce on Wednesday afternoon, but was stopped by private security guards posted at the site. It was only after police arrived that the guards relented. What Datta saw left him in shock. "There is no sign of a pond now. It has been completely filled up," he said.

Sources said the pond has been filled up over the past couple of months under blanket security. The entrance to the plot is shrouded with a black tarpaulin and entry strictly monitored. There is absolute secrecy over who the promoters are and what is to be constructed at the encroached site.

Some, however, brazenly claimed that the 'so-called pond' was a lowland. "It is good that it is being filled up," said Rajesh Sharma, who has been living here for 40 years. Activist Bonani Kakkar, who has fought many a legal battle for wetland conservation, clarified that any waterbody over 5 cottah comes under the purview of Inland Fisheries Act and any wetland, whatever be the condition, cannot be converted to dry land.

A 16-year-old spilled the beans. "The pond had a lot of water, but the people have been filling it gradually for years. The activity picked up steam over the past couple of months," he said.

An FIR has been lodged and Phool Bagan police have written to Kolkata Municipal Corporation for action. KMC has, in turn, asked police to maintain a 24x7 vigil and plans to inspect the site soon. "A joint inspection will be carried out with representatives of the pollution control board, inland fisheries department and KMC's project management unit," said KMC member, mayor-in-council (environment) Sanchita Mondol.

South Asian Forum for Environment chair Dipayan Dey isn't too enthused with the assurance of an inspection. "It is our collective responsibility to end the encroachment and filling of wetlands. But no one is doing anything about it. There are several cases like these, but they never come to our notice," he added.

Copyright © 2012 Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved.

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