Spread over 140 sq km, East Kolkata Wetlands (EKW) is the kidney of Calcutta. Listed as a Ramsar site (an international convention on conserving wetlands), it is a mosaic of ponds, lakes, canals and swamps—a natural treatment plant for Calcutta's sewage. It also provides livelihood to 90,000 persons engaged in fish cultivation via 'bheries' and 10,000 farmers who grow vegetables and paddy on small plots. However, poisonous effluents from tanneries, sewage around Calcutta and forays by realty firms threatened the site's delisting from Ramsar by 2005-end. This threat, though milder now, still exists. "There is an urgent need to create awareness among all to conserve the EKW. Without it, Calcutta would die," Dipayan Dey, chairman of NGO South Asia Forum for Environment (SAFE), told Outlook.
The problem, said a senior officer of the state fisheries department, is of ownership. A variety of agencies are working at the EKW. "Since the responsibility for conserving the EKW isn't marked clearly, there is no accountability at all," he says. Which is where SAFE steps in. "Our focus is on developing partnerships with local stakeholders," says Dey. "We've also been listing the flora and fauna, organising health camps, providing sanitation facilities to locals, and highlighting the state of EKW at national and international fora to get help in remediation."