Kidneys of Kolkata

Kidneys of Kolkata

Posted On Saturday, May 30, 2009 at 12:11:16 PM

The East Kolkata wetlands fed by sewage water is a picture-pretty place
Divya Fernandez  
Kolkata and its unending supply of legendary fresh fish-did you ever imagine this had any connection with the sewage generated by this overcrowded city? Well, its true – Kolkata has the world’s largest collection of fish farms fed by sewage water!  Large areas of vegetables are grown on garbage and paddy fields are irrigated by sewage effluent.
All this at the East Kolkata wetlands at the edge of the city – a place few people, even Kolkatans, have bothered to visit.
When I first heard about it, my reaction was, “Oh, must be a mucky, smelly swampy place.” When I actually went deep into the wetlands, walking along the bunds, guided by Bonanidi who has been here hundreds of times and fought a case for it back in 1992, it simply took my breath away.
You have to see it to believe it. And it didn’t look dirty at all. A network of small square cut ponds, edged with water hyacinth, paddy fields soaked in water, all interspersed by bunds, little bamboo bridges, tree-lined canals. You forget you were just half an hour ago in a big bustling city like Kolkata.
I felt humbled, but I was truly humbled when I saw people – yes human beings – living in an intricate relationship with these wetlands as if their life depended on it. It is their forefathers who helped build the wetland as it is today and has been nourished from generation to generation.
The region is part of the mature delta of the River Ganga and the wetlands are the interdistributory marshes in the delta.
The streams which were once active became inactive after the shifting of the main river and consequent loss of headwaters from the Hoogly. The tidal action of the Bay of Bengal earlier caused salinity and tides in these lake areas.
The earliest known accounts of these Salt Lakes go back to the year 1748 when it was a vast area, teeming with fish and birds and extending right up to a mound known as Dumduma, near which Burmese and Mug traders arriving in boats used to anchor.
The East Kolkata Wetlands as it is known today comprise nearly 115 sq km. Using the purification capacity of wetlands, Kolkata has pioneered a system of waste disposal that is both efficient and environment friendly, at no extra cost. The cost of setting up a sewage treatment plant today would be about Rs 400 crore and require Rs 1,000 crore in yearly maintenance.
Kolkata, the second largest Indian city containing 14 million people generates roughly 680 million litres of sewage. One-third of the city’s sewage and most of its garbage is converted into 20 tonnes of fish and 50 tonnes of vegetables.
This provides for about 60 g of fish  and 300 g of vegetables daily for about 5 lakh people.The wetland foliage has spongy roots that can accumulate heavy metals in their tissues at 100,000 times the concentration in the surrounding water and also house nurseries of fish among them.
Eichhornia crassipes or water hyacinth found here, is known as the Jekyll and Hyde of the wetland world because though it helps remove toxic materials in some wetlands it is often a costly adversary in others because of its phenomenal growth. In the East Kolkata Wetlands, the fishermen prevent the hyacinth that edges their bheris (The fishermen use gates to direct the foul smelling sewage into their tiny shallow water fishponds called bheris) from clogging the ponds by ingeniously and simply holding them back with bamboo fences. 
Rare mammals like the Indian marsh mongoose, small Indian mongoose , palm civet, and small Indian civet are found in and around the area. Threatened reptiles like the Indian mud turtle are found. Birdwatchers regularly come to watch the local as well as migratory birds that visit the wetlands. More than 40 species including coot, grebe, darter, shag, teals, cormorant, egrets, gulls, jacanas, snipes, tern, eagle, sandpiper, rails and kingfishers are seen here.
One-fourth of Kolkata’s total requirement of vegetables reach the city with minimum cost of transport. Fish reach the stalls straight from the auction market – there is no expense on cold storage or fish feed, Yet Kolkatans are ready to pay a good price because they can see how fresh it is.
Not many city dwellers realise that these wetlands are the lungs and kidneys of Kolkata. Over the years, people have been eyeing this area as free space – whether for building an eye hospital or as a place for old cows and goats!
They even wanted to build a World Trade Centre in the middle of the wetland! In 1992, the Kolkata High Court designated 12,500 ha of the wetland as a conservation area, after the judge himself visited the area. Like I said, seeing is believing!
The court order prevents changes in landuse. Yet developers encroach on its edges and development speculation never ceases to dog the area, with an active promoter-real-estate-developer lobby waiting in the wings. 
Now Dipayan Dey, environmentalist and LEAD India finalist, through the Indian chapter of the NGO SAFE is working on a project that aims to restore to restore and develop the East Kolkata Wetlands so that this precious habitat remains intact and also help sustain the communities that depend on it.
Keeping in mind that the beauty of the wetlands attracts many tourists who come for bird watching, boating, picnicking and photography, with the help of the local community, they have put together thatched huts, which are rented out to visitors. Women of the fishing communities have been trained in hospitality and catering and the families will provide these services to eco-tourists for a reasonable charge. In this way the ecosystem is taken care of while also sustaining the community.
This area is internationally recognised as the only Ramsar entry from India for wetland wise use and the only one that is by the side of a city. The people of the wetlands do not care about all this, they only want to be allowed to coexist with nature. Though Kolkata may not be aware of its lungs and kidneys, for these people, it is their very life.

Cyclone Aila cripples East

Cyclone Aila cripples East
While Orissa faced the full wrath of the cyclone, Bengal puts up a brave challenge
Avishek Rakshit
Friday, May 29, 2009
KOLKATTA, INDIA: The cyclone which took on Bengal and Orissa on May 25th evening, left the eastern coastal region paralyzed for two days; Kolkata and Bhubaneswar dared the gale.

Christened Aila, the cyclone has taken its toll on the market in the two states, with the cyclonic trough of 250-350km in diameter and winds speeding up to 120kmph. At least 82 people have been killed across West Bengal and over 1,800 trees uprooted in the metro.

Also, electric poles have keeled over endangering short circuits leaving water supply across the city in a total state of chaos. Also, traffic systems have been brought to a halt with blocked roads lying unattended, and even the Metro Railways crashed down.

“The cyclone set in late night on Sunday and raged on for the next day. It was total chaos and especially Puri, Cuttak, Chandrapura and Balasore have been severely affected. The cyclone has left the state capital devastated with uprooted trees blocking the roads, and broken lamp-posts bringing in the fear of short circuits and electric shocks,” said Prasant Kumar Swain of Bhubneshwar-based Nigama Comptech and Services.

“After the cyclone, life in the city has halted for two days. Already business has been affected by the global slowdown and the declaration of the examination results. Now, with the cyclone setting in, we are facing not only a chaotic situation in the state but incurring heavy losses in the trade,” Swain added.

Across Orissa, logistics has been halted for about a week with waterlogged areas in the upcountry regions looking forward to government relief. Also, as employees in the stores in the region are returning home in the upcountry, dealers are facing an employee crunch in the state.

The case is similar in West Bengal, where the state capital Kolkata is witnessing the aftermath of Aila. For two days, nearly half of the city went without water and electric supply with frustrated protesters across the city resorting to mob fury and road blockades in major traffic crossings.

Also, communication across the state came to a standstill for an entire day with Buddhadev Bhattacharya, CM of the state admitting that telephone lines has been cut down and even mobile phone networks laying jammed all through.

“There are few customers in the shop. There is no water and electricity in many parts of the city till day and people are resorting to road-blocks frustrated with these problems. Also, outstation customers are not coming here knowing the state of the city and sales has been direly hit. However, there are no logistical problems crippling here and sufficient stocks are there in the godowns,” said Kolkata-based Gaurav Goel of Eastern Logica.

However, compared to the scenario in Bhubaneswar, Kolkata is better off. Speaking about the issue, Kolkata-based Chandra Prakash Shaw of Lotte Computers stated, “Kolkata has not been direly affected by Aila. There has not been much of an impact over the sales due to the gale and life is normal in the shop. However, some parts of the city is still waterlogged and there is no electricity.”

The situation is also the same in Bengal upcountry. As heavy rains battered the hills, landslides either washed away or damaged houses, and roads in Darjeeling and Kurseong subdivisions. Darjeeling was cut off from the plains as rain and swirling mountain torrents devastated Hill Cart Road (NH-55), Pankhabari Road and Rohini Road.

As strong winds uprooted trees and electric and telephone poles, the hills went without electricity and phone services were down.

Traffic on Hill Cart Road was closed after two mountain torrents, Khaharay and Whilstle Khola, washed away portions of it near Kurseong town. A landslip obstructed movement of traffic on Dowhill Road in Kurseong. Fire brigade, police and civil defense personnel were deployed for rescue operations. At some places, GJM’s police wing Gorkhaland Personnel was engaged to combat the situation.

However, Siliguri dealers did not report any considerable damage due to the storm.

“The road to Darjeeling and Kurseong has been blocked and the hills are laying cut off from the Siliguri plains. However, there has not been any considerable damage in business here due to the showers,” said Siliguri-based Bijay Agarwal of Computer Shoppe.

Also, Hoogly, where Aila was at its worst, has been normal throughout the week. Although dealers reported improper rescue operations worsening the infrastructural part, they are confident that trading has not been affected.

“There have not been any issues with trading. On Monday, we had shut ourselves against the storm and had to close early. But, next day onwards, we did not have to suffer any business loses. Also, logistics is at a normal flow,” said Mrinmoy Banerjee of Hoogly-based Horizon Computers.

Reinstating the statement, Pinakiranjan Banerjee of Bankura-based Galaxy said, “The situation here is quite normal. Although in the villages, there has been considerable damage because of the cyclone, here, business is normal. We are having our regular customers and there are no issues or complaints regarding flow of materials. Trading is normal here.”

Nevertheless, the cyclone Aila which had bring in havoc for Orissa and Bengal has a positive side too. Aided by the cyclone Aila, monsoon has arrived in the Northeast a week before its scheduled date of June 1, bringing relief to the people exhausted with the hot and humid summers.


Article from The Hindu: Sent to you by Soumya

This article has been sent to you by Soumya ( )
Source: The Hindu (
Front Page

West Bengal cyclone death toll mounts to 82

Ananya Dutta

Heavy rain triggers landslips in Darjeeling; Aila weakens into depression and causes downpour

— Photo: Arunangsu Roy Chowdhury

Flood of woes: Marooned villagers at Basanti in West Bengal’s South 24 Parganas district move to safer places on Tuesday.

KOLKATA: The city and some districts, devastated by cyclone Aila on Monday, are yet to come to terms with the reality, even as the death toll shot up to 82. Fresh areas in the north were reeling under the impact of the cyclone’s after-effects on Tuesday. More than 2.2 million people have been affected.
Heavy and incessant rain in Darjeeling triggered landslips, which claimed nine lives. At least six people are reported missing. The highway connecting the hills to the rest of the State was blocked at several places.
“Cyclone Aila has weakened into a depression,” said G.C. Debnath, director, weather section, Regional Meteorological Centre. “It caused very heavy rainfall in north Bengal on Tuesday.”
Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has apprised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of the situation.
Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi, who is in Darjeeling, was in constant touch with Mr. Bhattacharjee. He visited three areas worst hit by the landslips and met the injured who were admitted to the district hospital. He appreciated the locals for their help in clearing the roads of debris.
While Kolkata limped back to normal, vast areas of the districts hit by the cyclonic storm on Monday were under water that gushed in through breaches in the embankments.
Army and Border Security Force personnel are assisting in rescue operations in Darjeeling and North and South 24 Parganas districts. Two MI-17 helicopters of the Air Force are airdropping relief materials and carrying out evacuations in inaccessible areas in South and North 24 Parganas.
More than 41,000 people, who have lost their homes, have been put up in 109 relief camps. Around 61,000 houses have been destroyed and 1.32 lakh partially damaged, Chief Secretary Ashok Mohan Chakraborty said here.
Certain areas, including Patharpratima in South 24 Parganas district, remain inaccessible.
The Chief Minister visited some of the worst-hit areas in the district. So did Trinamool Congress chief and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee later in the afternoon.
Mr. Bhattacharjee spoke to a section of those sheltered in the relief camps in the Nimpith area. Rescue and relief operations were being undertaken on a war-footing, he said. Attempts were being made to restore power and drinking water was also being supplied in pouches.
Ms. Banerjee suggested that a master plan be drawn up for flood and erosion control. She criticised the State government for not opening adequate relief camps.
Kolkata, much to the relief of its residents, woke up to clear skies in the morning. Though traffic was back on the roads, several stretches continue to remain blocked by uprooted trees.

63 dead in Bangladesh

Haroon Habib
reports from Dhaka:
Cyclone Aila, which crossed over to Bangladesh, claimed more than 60 lives there, with more than a 100 missing as on Tuesday.
The cyclone wreaked havoc in Satkhira, a south-west district adjoining West Bengal, leaving 20 dead, said a senior official at the district control room. Packing winds of up to 110 kmph, the storm made landfall between midday and late night on Monday.
Thousands were shifted to emergency shelters along the south-west coastline. Tidal surges damaged nearly a dozen flood-control structures, marooning thousands.
Reports said many smaller islands such as Dhalchar, Char Kukrimukri, Char Patila, Char Hasina, Char Nizam and Char Kashpia in the Bay of Bengal were under 8 to 10 feet of water.

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Bird of Paradise

Originally uploaded by soumyanath

Come summer and North Bengal calls you. It’s a waste to toil in the Kolkata heat leaving the cool hills.

I really wish, some people had sense to move at least IT industries to hills. It would have provided some cash to hills and much needed activity to the desk bound IT population.