“Check out before purchasing lands in EKW,” said Bengal’s environment minister Manas Ranjan Bhunia. “We have integrated a very detailed map of EKW in the e-nathikaran system of the directorate of registration and stamp revenue. So, the moment one puts the dag number and khatian number of the land, there will be a pop-up detailing the issues with EKW land,” he added.
EKW, an internationally protected Ramsar site, is known to be the world’s biggest natural sewage filtration system without any use of human technology, thus considered to be the kidney of the city. Under EKW Conservation and Management Act 2006, no land can be converted without clearance from East Kolkata Wetland Management Authority (EKWMA).
“This is to alert gullible people, who often purchase a plot without much verification. Purchasing or selling land in EKW is not prohibited. But converting marshy land into homestead land for any construction activity is a crime. We are sworn to protect the EKW,” Bhunia added.
“Yes, it is true that people often buy land in EKW without knowing the unique wetland and the law governing it. But the web app of the registration department can surely plug the knowledge gap. We are encroaching on the land at our own peril.
It is not only filtering the city sewage water, but it is also a source of abundant oxygen, fresh vegetables and fish,” said Dhruba Das Gupta, a wetland researcher with IIEST.The gradual fill-up of EKW started from 2017-18 but gained momentum during the pandemic.
After a member of the environmental action group, PUBLIC, discovered the encroachment in 2020, a PIL was filed, followed by a court order this February on the razing of illegal constructions and restoration of the wetlands.
It was another PIL that PUBLIC had filed three decades ago that led to a landmark judgment by Justice Umesh Chandra Banerjee that saved EKW from encroachment under the garb of development, and its subsequent protection. But the filling-up and construction in EKW happened over four decades (between 1972 and 2011) – about 38.6 square km of wetlands were converted to built-up areas.