Kolkata: When Mumbai went under water after a torrential downpour this July, many in Kolkata wondered if the city was headed the same way. After all, it had been flooded several times this monsoon. Just like creeks and marshlands had disappeared in Mumbai, so had ponds and waterbodies in Kolkata.
The city has lost almost half the water bodies in the past three decades. While Kolkata had around 8,700 water bodies around the late 80s, there are only around 3,500 now. Ponds that were in abundance in parts of Behala till the mid-1990s have disappeared. The vanishing water bodies have led to waterlogging with the very areas that did not witness any inundation now submerged for days during the monsoon.
According to Bimal Roychowdhury, a retired government officer and a resident of Sarsuna who had initiated against filling of ponds, the amount of pressure that an activist has to withstand in protecting ponds, it is getting increasingly difficult for him/her to continue with the movement. “Often we get exposed after lodging complaints with police or civic administration. In absence of a stringent action, land mafias threaten us with dire consequences. How many of us can still carry on with the save the pond movement amid such a threat and lack of action from the administration?” he wondered.
Environmentalist Mohit Ray who did a research on the vanishing ponds said the actual number of water bodies in Kolkata was unclear but a detailed map book of the city containing 284 plates by the National Atlas & Thematic Mapping Organisation showed it to be 8,731 around 15-20 years ago. Google’s satellite imagery of Kolkata showed it was 4,889 in 2006. That number has further whittled down to around 3,500 now.
Golf Garden is another locality that is plagued with waterlogging after ponds were filled up around two decades ago. A member of NGO Public was thrashed in Golf Garden for protesting against the filling up of a pond. Though he had filed an FIR, he withdrew it after two rival political parties held separate rallies in the neighbourhood denouncing him.
According to Nirmal Ghosh, a resident of Golf Garden and an IT official, residents of the area on several occasions have lodged complaints of filling of a large number of ponds in Azadgarh, Golf Garden, Bijoygarh, Baghajatin and Jadavpur areas. “Despite pointing out the vulnerable ponds that a section of land sharks had targeted to local police stations or KMC offices, we couldn’t save these ponds from being filled up. The results have been obvious. Besides an increase in the air pollution level, we are also bearing the brunt of waterlogging woes,” Ghosh said.
Areas along the EM Bypass, too, are witnessing waterlogging following the disappearance of sewage farms and agricultural land in the East Kolkata Wetlands. The change seen between the 2002 satellite map of EKW and the 2016 map was “dramatic” and clearly demonstrated the massive extent of encroachment and conversion, which threatened the very existence of the Ramsar site.
Some of the 37 moujas have witnessed encroachment on such a massive scale that barely look like wetlands now. Different shades of grey and brown dominate Pashchim Chowbhaga, Nonadanga, Chowbhaga, Jagatipota, Mukundapur, Atghara, Kulberia, Beonta, Thakdari, Dhapa Manpur and Garai, indicating rampant construction after filling up and conversion of sewage-fed fish farms.
A KMC environment department official conceded that ponds in 44 KMC wards in areas that were added later have disappeared with alarming regularity despite the civic body’s attempts to protect them. “It is a matter of regret that we have failed to protect ponds in added areas like Garden Reach, Behala, Tollygunge Jadavpur and large areas located off EM Bypass,” the official said.