For the past three hundred years, the East Kolkata Wetlands Ramsar Site (India) has provided a vital service in receiving and treating the waste water from the city of Kolkata. Each day, the wetland receives some 1,000 million litres of sewage which is passed through a series of canals, fish-pond and agricultural (mainly paddy) fields that make up the East Kolkata Wetlands, before discharging it into the Bay of Bengal after some 3-4 weeks.
This natural waste water treatment system developed by the local community with their traditional wisdom saves the city the cost of having to build and maintain a conventional treatment plant and in addition, the wetland also provides livelihood for around 25,000 families of fishermen, produces over 10,000 tonnes of fish per year for the people of Kolkata as well as rice and vegetables.
With the growth of Kolkata city over the past couple of decades however, there has been increasing pressing on the wetland from urban encroachment, demand for land to expand and improve the existing garbage dumping site on the edge of the East Kolkata Wetlands, and there are concerns over the quantity and quality of raw sewage needed to support the fishponds in the natural waste water ecosystem.
To address these pressures, the Department of Environment of the Government of West Bengal together with the East Kolkata Wetlands Management Authority, organized a workshop on 2-3 March to bring together many of the stakeholder groups to discuss the way forward for the future management and wise use of the Site.
The workshop was attended by a number of key figures, such as Shri Sovan Chatterjee (Minister, Department of Environment, GoWB), as well as representatives from a relevant of central and state government departments, municipal authorities, private sector and civil society organizations.
Through presentations, discussions and break-out sessions, the participants agreed there was a need to take a holistic approach to managing the site with the participation of all the relevant stakeholders. This would involve clearly marking the Site boundary and to develop a ‘wise use’ plan for the site.
The plan would include:
The next step will be the formation of a broad-based group stakeholder group who would develop the ‘wise use’ plan and to oversee its implementation.
The workshop was organized in association with Kolkata Commons Centre for Interdisciplinary Research And Analytics (CIRA).
Reported by Lew Young, Ramsar Senior Advisor for Asia & Oceania