02/01/2010 20:14

An Interface on



Vasundhara has campaigned for restoration of Bikramgarh Jheel, the large waterbody in South Kolkata for quite some time. In a densely populated area, the presence of this Jheel is a unique phenomenon. Vasundhara has, from the beginning, interacted with the local clubs on this issue and they have been very helpful. As Kolkata Municipal Corporation has now taken over the management of Bikramgarh Jheel, its useful restoration should be discussed at community level.

On 27 July, 2003, Sunday, Vasundhara organized an interface on the development of the Jheel in association with the Centre for Urban Economics Studies (CUES) of University of Calcutta and the local Udayan Club at the club premises. The meeting was convened to have an intense interaction among the local organizations, academics and environmental groups. The programme was kicked off at around 10 am with the introductory speech by Dr. Pabitra Giri, Director, CUES. He explained why they although being an academic body, got interest to have such a discussion in the grass root level. He said," We must take water as an important resource to be conserved for the generations to come." He emphasized to take advice from the grass root level discussion to save the water bodies. For Vasundhara, Mohit Ray, an environmental expert said "Our aim is not only to conserve the Bikramgarh Jheel. Rather, it is a planning process of Kolkata's water bodies. There is a requirement to renovate the urban water bodies. He raised the issue of cementing all sides of the waterbodies which is harming aquatic ecology and destroying biodiversity. It needs a proper balance between the civil engineering and environmental sciences." He presented a short slide show and sited the present status of Bikramgarh.

In the discussion, the necessity of conservation of biodiversity, conflicts of cemented and earthen embankment were highlighted. It is reported that the wetland still harbors a vast array of biodiversity. In a study, Vasundhara found 22 kinds of birds, 6 types of snails, 6 kinds of colorful butterflies, varied insects and crabs, turtles, Mongoose, snakes and frogs in the lake. They found about 38 floras (both aquatic and terrestrial) in the Jheel. Fishes like Rohu, Mrigala, Hybrid Magur, Telapia, Lata, and Shole are cultured in the Jheel's water. Some rare species like Bronze-winged Jacana (among birds), different kinds of crickets and Dragonflies, Hogla bush are still visible in the threatened water body. "This is a unique mix of wetland and water body. The water body can provide utility to various urban needs--- from water for bathing to recreation, from income through pisiculture to a quite cool bank for leisure and rest, while the wetland will bring back a green world full of birds, butterflies, even some snakes and frogs in this gray urban milieu", said Ray. Physico-chemical analysis of the water body shows, it is not at all suitable for human use.
By volume the Bikramgarh Jheel was not far behind the Dhakuria Lake and the Subhas Sarobar. "Initially it was more than about 100 bighas", said Niranjan Dey of the local Cultural Association. But at present, apparently only about 30-40 bighas left open.

During the meeting a group of local youth engaged in unauthorized pisciculture expressed their concern about losing their earnings, They feel any renovation should into account their situation also. Prof. S.C.Santra, Dept. of Environmental Sciences of Kalyani University said, "There is no contradiction in the necessity of the water body conservation. But the process of conservation may differ." He said, "We can make the Jheel, a natural zoo. The aquatic animals and the plants those have either been extinct or threatened, may be harbored in this water body." He uttered against the concrete embankment, rather he emphasized to upraise the bound to prevent erosion and thereby pollution. Mukuta Mukherjee of WWF also expressed her concern. Chiro Dutta, Secretary of Calcutta 36 suggested that the bank might be sloped in 2:1 ratio with green turfing over it.

Dr. Asish Ghosh, ex-director of ZSI and presently Head of Centre for Environment and Development (CED) said," We often use a term 'multifunctional wetland'. In a same wetland, fishes may be cultured; side-by-side biodiversity may be maintained. But there should be some proper planning." One important debate arose during the meeting was, where from money would come to recover the whole pond. He suggested that fund provided by Asian Development Bank (ADB) may be utilised. It is to be mentioned; recently KMC has received a huge fund from ADB to improve the sewage system of the water bodies in the added areas (ward no. 101-141). Ghosh said," Bikramgarh Jheel may be brought under this scheme in order to divert all the sewer lines adjacent to it". Dr. Dhrubajyoti Ghosh, ex-chief Environment Officer, Govt. of West Bengal, argued this proposal. He said," Already our Government is running into debt. So the foreign bank like ADB should not be a suitable source of money." Rather he emphasized to handover the Jheel to some co-operative like Mudialy Fishermen's Co-operative Society Ltd. (MFCS). Prof. Asish Majumdar of the Department of Water Resources of Jadavpur University promised to do some project on the Jheel's water from their own fund. He said, he would talk to the National Centre for Ecodevelopment of the same university, whether the Jheel might be brought under 'ecorestoration'scheme. Niranjan Dey of Cultural Association said, during 1960's there was an initial effort to save the lake. Later former Mayor Prasanta Chatterejee tried a little to do something better for the Jheel, which ultimately went in vain. Members of the Katjuanagar Jagriti Sangha and Colony Committee felt, the Nagarik Committees and the local people had an important role to play in reviving the lake. Localite Asit Ghosh explained the need of interaction between the environmentalist and the local people in such a movement. Prof Ratan Khasnobis, Department of Business Management, Calcutta University also took part in the discussion. Members of Jagriti Sangha, Cultural Association, Mahalla Committee took part in the discussion. Shri Sanjiv Roy of Udayan Club spoke in details of his clubs effort to renovate the Jheel. Shri Saroj De, Secretary Udayan Club stressed about the local problems in renovating the waterbody. The problem of sewerage system also requires to be solved. There was quite argument about the size of the Jheel which needs to be recovered as there has been immense encroachment from all sides. The meeting was particularly successful because of lively participation of local organizations. There was intense debate about the development planning, sometimes quite heated debate also. Presence of a large number of audience made the interaction very useful.

The meeting did not take any resolutions but everyone agreed that it's time to act. There was debate whether the original areas of the Jheel needs to be recovered or the present available area should be immediately fenced. But unless some work starts, the Jheel will be filled up with time. IT IS TIME TO ACT.

organised by Vasundhara and Centre for Urban Economic Studies. Calcutta University with the help of Udayan Club, Bikramgarh on 27 July 2003, Sunday. 10 am at Udayan Club, Vikramgarh

Read Mohit Ray’s article on the Sunday Statesman dated 20 August 2006.