CAG report highlights gross environmental violations in Ramsar sites, EKW, Sunderbans

File photo: The Sunderbans mangrove forest. | Photo Credit: The Hindu photo library

A recent audit report of Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has pointed out illegal constructions and violations of environmental norms in two Ramsar sites in West Bengal, East Kolkata Wetlands (EKW) and Sunderbans.

“There were illegal constructions in the EKW and Coastal Regulation Zone area in Sunderbans. However, such violations even in these ecologically fragile areas were rarely found to have been penalised; on a couple of rare occasions, (when) they were done, it was in compliance with Kolkata High Court orders,“ the CAG report said. The report was made public in the last week of March before the West Bengal Legislative Assembly.

“There were illegal constructions in the EKW and Coastal Regulation Zone area in Sunderbans. However, such violations even in these ecologically fragile areas were rarely found to have been penalised.”CAG report

EKW, a unique peri-urban ecosystem that lies on the eastern fringes of Kolkata, covers an area of about 12,500 hectares, spread over 37 mouzas of the State’s South and North 24 Parganas district. The CAG report pointed out that failure to delineate boundaries of the EKW and uncontrolled transfer of land resulted in the change of character of EKW and lack of effective action by EKWMA (East Kolkata Wetland Management Authority).

“In absence of effective measures by EKWMA, water bodies were dried up and filled illegally. Since 2007, EKWMA has identified 357 cases of violation, out of which 101 cases were identified between December 2015 and March 2020,” the audit points out.

It further adds that on scrutiny of show cause notices issued to 101 violators, “51 cases were of construction of unauthorized two/three storied buildings, marble godowns, motorbike and car showrooms, 23 cases of drying up and filling of water bodies and 27 cases of construction of boundary walls in the EKW area; these altered the ecological character of the wetlands and therefore were in gross violation of the EKW Act”.

Violations by a religious authority and encroachment of wetlands by plastic industries has also been discussed in the report. The report points out that change in land use pattern was observed in Bhagabanpur Mouza where “areas under full water bodies and embankments decreased from 522.94 ha in 2002 to 116.07 ha in 2016 due to encroachment. The study further revealed that in the mouza, out of 47 bheries (fish ponds) functional in 1998, only 10 bheries were left in 2017. Thus EKWMA had failed to preserve the wetlands in the Bhagabanpur mouza”. The CAG has pointed out that the State Wetland Authority had not constituted the Wetland Mitra (citizen’s network) till March 2020.

Red flag on ICG hovercraft station

The CAG has also raised a red flag about a hovercraft station in Frazerganj in South 24 Parganas district. “Indian Coast Guard applied (September 2017) for setting up a hovercraft station in Frazerganj.” the CAG stated. According to the site plan, ICG would construct a guard room, officer’s mess and accommodation, park, fuel bunk, sailors institute, holiday home and a play ground.

“Though CRZ notification disallows construction of residential buildings in the NDZ, CRZ clearances by West Bengal State Coastal Zonal Management Authority for constructions of buildings … was against notification,” the report stated. 

The audit report points at a delay in coastal zone management plan (CZMP), construction of multi-purpose cyclone shelters without clearances of CRZ norms and construction of three helipads and VIP rest houses in ecologically sensitive areas in the Sundarbans. 

Eco projects destroying biodiversity

The CAG report has highlighted serious violations of CRZ norms in Sundarbans particularly for an ecotourism project at Jharkhali. “GoWB had undertaken (October 2015) a project of an eco–tourism hub at Jharkhali in Sundarbans after clearing 69 acres of mangrove. Even the river channel, breeding place of crocodiles, was claimed by the project.”

According to the Forest Department Report, in 2014, 70 baby crocodiles were rescued from the channel. However, “the same channel was closed down to build new roads to the tourism hub,” the report points out. The other points raised are tiger rescue centre and children’s park constructed on the banks of Harobhanga river in Sundarbans by cutting mangroves, which was not permissible under CRZ notification, 2011. The development of butterfly garden, children’s park and tourist centre contradicted the rationale for establishment of the tiger rescue centre, the auditors have further pointed out.

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Printable version | Apr 30, 2022 10:58:58 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/cag-report-highlights-gross-environmental-violations-in-ramsar-sites-ekw-sunderbans/article65370052.ece