Face to face
These are excerpts from an interview with Mohit
Ray, co-founder of Vasundhara, a self-funded citizens group, actively involved in the
protection of urban and semi-urban waterbodies in and around Kolkata. For details: www.vasundhara.cjb.net
AYes. Several community organisations are actively conserving these waterbodies without any external funding. Many of them are extensively used for fish farming thus, providing livelihood and employment. Some waterbodies are linked with temples, fairs constituting an important part of local cultural milieu. They keep the temperature low, while recharging the groundwater. Vasundhara has been a part of this movement by providing technical guidance and information dissemination. We are not only publishing Annual Environmental Survey of Kolkata but have developed a laboratory ensuring easy accessibility and relatively low rates. Q Does the recent announcement by the chief minister to frame an umbrella act for the protection of urban waterbodiies hold any weight?
A The debate has been buried for the time being. As crore of rupees are involved in filling up of these waterbodies, the problem will persist. Last year, the Chairman of Dumdum Municipality was murdered on this issue. He was a leading member of the ruling party. Moreover, I think policy and actual implementation of laws are two separate matters. Q Can National Lakes Conservation Policy effectively addresses this issue?
A The urban and semi-urban waterbodies are different from the national lakes. Thus, the policies should also be different. Q Why is filing public interest litigation for the protection of urban waterbodies, a popular readdressal tool?
A Courts come into the picture when executives fail to do their duties. In West Bengal, filling up waterbodies is already banned, under Inland Fisheries Act. But its effective implementation needs active participation from the people and government. On June 16, Vasundhara along with several pond committees celebrated wetland day and it was heartening to see that after a few days one committee came to us for consultation. On July 28, they organised a mass meeting, where a number of such committees were present. It is a new and encouraging development. I am convinced that peoples participation is a extremely powerful tool.
This seems to be the guiding principle behind the US governments plans of protecting wetlands. Everglades extending from the Kissimmee chain of lakes to Florida Bay, is one stark example. The problem started as early as 1880s, which has only strengthened over the years disrupting the water flow. Several federal projects in the past 54 years have failed to make any significant dent. Today, the major threat to Everglades is from unabated limestone mining, which feeds 50 per cent of Floridas construction industry.
In 2000, the federal government launched the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, worth US $ eight billion to restore the ecosystem and meet south Floridas water needs for the next 50 years. Under pressure from the politically powerful mining companies, the plan allows mining in another 21,000 acres on the western edges of Everglades for the next 35 years. After that, government plans to spend US $ one billion to convert it into water reservoirs. The Army Corps of Engineers, agency in charge for wetland protection, is quiet. "There is no way to make up for the deep holes left that are biologically unproductive and functionally impaired", says the local officials.
"Rock is money", said senior representative from Riker, one of the three companies operating in the area. "It would be nice if it wasnt under Everglades, but we go where the rock is." It appears, that the government too, is ready to follow them.
Copyright © 2002 Centre for Science and Environment