World Wetlands Day 2009 -- India
South Asian Forum for Environment (SAFE) this year on 2nd Feb’09 World Wetlands Day; handed over India’s first ‘Biorights’ project to the wetlanders of the East Kolkata Wetlands, a threatened Ramsar site. This concept of ‘Biorights’ last year was launched by Dr. Dipayan Dey, Chair SAFE, creating a win-win opportunity towards poverty alleviation & environmental conservation.
In a solemn ceremony organized by SAFE at the Sukantanagar bheri of East Kolkata Wetlands, an only Ramsar site in West Bengal, the torch handing over ceremony took place in the esteemed presence of Dr. S.P Gonchoudhuri, Ashden Awardee and Special Secretary to Government of West Bengal, Hon. Md. Nasser Khan, Member Human Rights Commission, India, Mr. P. Mohanaiah, Chief General Manager, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, (NABARD), Kolkata and Mrs. Ila Nandi, Vice-Chairman, Bidhannager Municipality. The ceremony was presided by Dr. Biswajiban Majumder, Chairman, BidhannagarMunicipality and convened by Dr.Dipayan Dey, Chair, SAFE. (See illustrated report)
An overwhelming response from the fishermen community brought the event to life. Nearly 250 people, including six women self help groups members participated in the event. SAFE handed over a pair of cell phones and fibre paddle boats to the community to facilitate the eco-tourism project. Dr. Gonchoudhuri in his valiant speech highlighted the vulnerability of poor commons in the background of climate change and natural disasters. He said, “We should all join hands to protect these wetlands because these are the basic resource recycling eco-systems.” He congratulated SAFE for carrying out the Bio-rights movement in the East Kolkata Wetlands. Md. Nasser Khan emphasized that the environment is a basic amenity for survival and said that it is a matter of human rights to have a pollution free clean environment around us. Dr.Majumder, said, “Last year I came to launch the project, now the place has remarkably changed and it has started generating revenue for the poor fishermen.” He pleaded before the community to participate whole heartedly with SAFE in achieving conservation and poverty alleviation objectives.
This bio-rights project advocates the right of commons for getting compensated for their endeavors to conserve the wetlands. Eco-tourism has been used as a financial tool, to establish this compensation model through micro health insurance scheme and bank linkages for micro-financing. Axis bank and Bajaj alliance Insurance Company, who had put up information stalls for the wetlanders in the venue, showed the successful public private partnership towards environmental conservation and poverty alleviation.
Appreciating the efforts of SAFE, Mr.P.Mohaniah, said that NABARD would extend all possible help, to the organization for training and capacity building of the poor wetlanders. He was keen to extend financial support for the next bio-rights project to be launched by SAFE in the East Kolkata Wetlands, which would ensure development of a gene bank for the endemic species of fishes available in this threatened Ramsar site. Dr.Dipayan Dey, Chair SAFE, in his brief address thanked everyone who supported this project and highlighted this year’s wetlands day theme, “Upstream downstream, wetlands connects us all”, to emphasize the importance of wetlands and water bodies in the global south.
SAFE on this great occasion took the opportunity to launch the concept of the book entitled “Biorights: The Conservation Paradigm for Poverty Alleviation” thatit aspires to publish by World Environment Day; this year.