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Vol. 4                                         No. 3                               June 2001
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Rights denied

People living around Porur Lake, located on the southwest outskirts of Chennai, are up in arms over their ‘rightful’ share of water from the lake.

Severe water scarcity and deteriorating ground water quality compelled them to take this step, as uptil now they were using groundwater only. However, over the years, the unregulated release of sewage and garbage both by the locals and the city has adversely affected the water quality.

The lake is under the Metro Water Board’s jurisdiction. So, the locals suggested that treated water from the lake could be supplied to their two overhead tanks, constructed by the board a few years back, at the cost of five crore to store Krishna water -a scheme that never materialised. The board has turned down their demand arguing that "Porur residents can be supplied water from the lake only after the city has received its share." Ironically, the very existence of the lake is a non-issue for the moment.

Source:
F Ahmed 2002, Porur Residents Claim ‘Rightful’ Share From Their Lake, The Hindu, May 30

Guardians of lakes

As state bodies in West Bengal battle over the need to protect urban water bodies (see box: The Clash), it is the members of the civil society who have actually emerged as the guardians of these urban waterbodies. Their mechanisms vary from mobilising community-led action to seeking the court’s intervention.

Vasundhara, a non-governmental organisation is actively encouraging and mobilising the local communities to protect 3,000 urban water bodies. (for details: ww.vasundhara.cjb. net). All these waterbodies are under the jurisdiction of the Kolkata municipal corporation. Their major achievement is not only removing the encroachments from the 8,500-sq m of the water body at Jheel Road, near Jadavpur railway station in south Kolkata, but reviving it. It all happened when in March 1999, the concerned residents formed the Jheel Sanrakshan Samiti that generated a huge public support for the pond’s protection. Later, the municipal authority also extended their support. Together, they not only brought the pond back to life, but 13 affected families were also rehabilitated.

For past three years, Vasundhara has been celebrating June 16 as the wetlands day to generate awareness among the people. Impressed by their efforts, the Central Pollution Control Board has entrusted Vasundhara with the task of developing a management plan for protecting the ponds of Kolkata.

The clash

In May 2002, the state environment department proposed a ‘West Bengal Protection of Large Ponds Act’ that would allow the filling up of urban water bodies for development. To counter this proposal, which negated the provisions of the existing Fisheries Act disallowing their ‘killing’, the Fisheries Department, proposed a third amendment to this Act. To resolve the conflict, the chief minister intervened, and announced the drafting of an umberalla act, which would protect all urban waterbodies.

On the other hand, the Howarh Gantantrik Nagarik Samiti (HGNS), an NGO, approached courts for readdressal, when their protests (1980–84) failed to make an impact on the state. After fighting a six years long legal battle, in September 2001, the High Court banned the filling of ponds in Howarh region. The responsibility of enforcing the order was given to the respective police officers. Another public interest litigation to protect Rabindra Sarobar is still going on.

In West Bengal, the people are on guard, protecting their waterbodies from any imminent danger.

 

Rescuing isolated wetlands

A report released by the US Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) in June 2002 reflects the efforts of several state governments to protect isolated wetlands (IWs), which had lost federal support following a January 2001 Supreme Court directive. In May 2001, Wisconsin was the first state to pass the state law for preventing the filling and dredging of IWs.

The problem surfaced when the court ruled in favour of a group of northern Illinois communities, who wanted to build a solid waste facility on a 533-acre site – comprising a number of ponds used by migratory birds. As a result of this decision, both the US Army Corps of Engineers, the federal authority in charge and the federal states, lost the authority to protect million of acres of IWs, nationwide. The court’s decision was based on the utility perspective of the IWs, as these water bodies have no apparent perennial surface water connection. However, they are crucial in maintaining the region’s ecology.

In Wisconsin, a number of such water bodies were filled within the first five months of the ruling. The citizens and lawmakers decided to act by transferring the responsibility of protecting one million acres of IWs in the state from Corps to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Thus, effectively restricting the impact of the ruling.

The USFWS report has come to the rescue of the IWs, by emphasising their role in country’s ecosystem and issuing an urgent call for their protection,at the national level.


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