Kolkata, March 4 (IANS) Following the visit of an official of the Ramsar secretariat, the West Bengal government has decided to come up with a "wise use" plan on how to best manage the ecologically fragile East Kolkata Wetlands (EKW) in the future, an official said on Saturday.
The Ramsar secretariat carries out the day-to-day coordination of the Ramsar Convention, which is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands. It is named after the city of Ramsar in Iran, where the Convention was signed in 1971.
The move comes in the wake of reports that the state government is attempting to "legalise illegal constructions" in the fast-shrinking wetlands, a designated Ramsar site. This has prompted concerned citizens to start an online petition as well.
"The idea is to come up with this plan on how best to manage the EKW in the future," said senior advisor for Asia-Oceania at Ramsar secretariat Llewellyn Young.
Young said that in the absence of a management plan, the Ramsar authorities cannot consider a request for modification of rules.
Principal Secretary of the State Environment Department Arnab Roy told IANS that a "wise use" plan would be created.
The Ramsar Convention defines wise use of wetlands as "the maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development". Wise use can be seen as the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and all the services they provide, for the benefit of people and nature.
The EKW located on the eastern fringes of Kolkata forms one of the largest assemblages of sewage-fed fish ponds. It nurtures the world's largest wastewater-fed aqua culture system.
On August 19, 2002 the EKW was included in the Ramsar list of 'Wetlands of International Importance'.
Spread over an area of 12,500 hectares, it encompasses nearly 254 sewage-fed fisheries distributed across the districts of South and North 24 Parganas. Besides, there are small agricultural plots, solid waste farms and some built up areas also.
A recent report released by citizens (based on satellite data) claims water bodies shrank from over 80 per cent to 19 per cent in the last few years within the EKW.
State Environment Minister and city mayor Sovan Chatterjee said a scientific management plan will be designed in consultation with Ramsar authorities, environmentalists and local residents.
Chatterjee, who also holds the chairmanship of East Kolkata Wetland Management Authority (EKWMA), had said he wants to set up a garbage dump in a part of the wetlands, which triggered apprehension among environmentalists about attempts to legalise illegal construction.
The ecosystem services provided by the EKW includes, in addition to fisheries, a very cheap, efficient and eco-friendly system of solid waste and sewer treatment system for Kolkata, habitat for waterfowl and home for a large number of flora and fauna.