East Kolkata Wetlands act as a natural waste water treatment system for the city. We are working to help protect them from threats such as urban encroachment.
East Kolkata Wetlands, popularly known as the “kidney” of the city, cover 12,500 ha of natural and manmade wetlands situated in the eastern fringes of the city of Kolkata, India. The site is world-renowned as a model of a multiple use wetland treating the city’s sewage in the world’s largest waste water fed aquaculture system. The wetlands receive 1,000 million litres of sewage each day, which passes through a network of canals, fish ponds and agricultural fields. This in turn provides about 150 tons of fresh vegetables every day, as well as 10,500 tons of table fish per year and livelihoods for at least 50,000 people. In addition to these benefits the wetland also provide an important habitat for 96 different species of plants, 16 species of mammals, many insects, reptiles and amphibians, and large variety of resident and migratory birds.
The East Kolkata Wetlands were designated as a Ramsar site in 2002. At the centre of the Ramsar Philosophy is the ‘wise use’ of wetlands, defined as “the maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development”. This designation recognises the importance of the wetland site not only for India, but for humanity as a whole. The inclusion of East Kolkata Wetlands on this list embodies the government’s commitment to take the steps necessary to ensure that its ecological character is maintained.
Unfortunately, the ecological character of East Kolkata is under threat as the wetlands face multiple pressures. The continued growth of the city poses multiple issues including unauthorized use of the wastewater outfall channels by industries, which add metals to the canal sludge and threaten the edible quality of the fish and vegetables. Another threat comes as the growing city encroaches into the wetland areas for building and new transport links such as the proposed five kilometre-long flyover road through the core of the wetlands, connecting the E M Bypass with New Town. Although protective legislation exists this needs to be put into action.
After the Ramsar designation the state government of West Bengal formed a management committee to look after the conservation and management of the wetland. On 31st March 2006, the West Bengal Legislature passed the East Kolkata Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Act 2006, which allowed the formation of the East Kolkata Wetlands Management Authority (EKWMA) under the chairmanship of Chief Secretary to the Government of West Bengal. The EKWMA aims to research, monitor, raise awareness of, and protect the wetlands. The following include just some of the important functions and powers of the East Kolkata Wetlands Management Authority:
- To stop, undo and prevent any unauthorised development project in, or unauthorized use of, or unauthorized act on, the East Kolkata wetlands.
- To detect changes of ecological character and in land use in the East Kolkata wetlands.
- To raise awareness about the utility of the wetlands in general and the East Kolkata wetlands in particular.
- To promote basic conservation principles like sewage fed pisciculture and eco-tourism in the East Kolkata wetlands.
In 2006 WWT Consulting produced a Masterplan, with EKWMA, followed by concept habitat designs, architectural vision, interpretation and business plan for a 30ha wetland park at East Kolkata Wetlands. The main drivers for the wetland park are to raise awareness of the importance of the wetlands with the wider local communities and the greater population of East Kolkata. The park aims to achieve this by increasing people’s engagement with the landscape and wildlife. The Wetland Park will be implemented shortly and we are really excited to be working with EKWMA to help achieve their important mission to protect these precious wetlands for future generations.