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Jane’s Walk 2013, East Calcutta (Kolkata) Wetlands

Jane Jacobs

Journalist, Author, Activist and Urban Thinker

“You’ve got to get out and walk”

Jane Jacobs (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Jane Jacobs (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Jane Jacobs (May 4, 1916 – April 25, 2006) was an American–Canadian journalist, author, and activist best known for her influence on urban studies. She had no formal training in architecture or urban planning yet her influential book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” (published in 1961) introduced ground breaking ideas about how cities function, evolve and fail that now seem like common sense to generations of architects, planners, politicians and activists.

Jacobs saw cities as integrated systems that had their own logic and dynamism which would change over time according to how they were used. With a keen eye for detail, she wrote eloquently about sidewalks, parks, retail design and self-organization.

A firm believer in the importance of local residents having input on how their neighborhoods develop, Jacobs encouraged people to familiarize themselves with the places where they live, work, and play.

Started in 2007, a year after her death, Jane’s Walks are held annually during the first weekend in May, to coincide with her birthday. Jane’s Walk consists of a series of neighbourhood walking tours. The walks are led by local volunteers and offered for free.

(Sorce: Official wuebsite of Jane Jacobs Walk)

Jane’s Walk Calcutta (Kolkata) Edition

3 – 5  May. 2013

“To Calcutta much abused, much loved and always interesting”

Desmond Doig

The 2013 Calcutta (Kolkata) edition of the Jane’s Walk was organised by The Telegraph Explore Calcutta Walks, in association with Calcutta Walks and was presented by Prabha Khaitan Foundation. Nine walks (including a bicycling ride) was designed by Calcutta Walks to cover the different cultural, social and even environmental aspects of the “City of Joy.”

Jane’s Walk, Calcutta (Kolkata) Edition Schedule

Walk

Leader

Meeting

May 4 & 5

East Calcutta Wetlands

Bonani Kakkar

Paroma Police Station

7 am

Park Street

Usha Uthup

Asiatic Society

8 am

Kalighat

Santimoy Bhattacharya

Kalighat Police Station

8 am

Photowalk

Rahul Mall

Victoria Memorial Main Gate

8 am

Rabindra Sarobar

Mudar Patherya

Menoka Cinema

8 am

Calcutta Theatre Story

Shuktara Lal

Girish Park Metro Exit

8 am

Sovabazar

Akhil Sarkar

Chatubabu Latubabur Bari

8 am

Bicycling Calcutta

Gautam Sharoff

Victoria Memorial Main Gate

6 am

Chinatown – Tiretta Bazar

Joseph Percy Ling

Poddar Court Remeonds

8 am

It was a tough decision choosing the walk, and after a series of decisions and indecisions I decided to head for the East Calcutta Wetlands Walk on 5 May 2013.

East Calcutta Wetlands Walk

With Bonani Kakkar, 5 May 2013

“If the Maidan is the lungs of Calcutta, the East Calcutta Wetlands would be the kidney!”

Bonani Kakkar, Environment Activist

East Calcutta Wetland, with Salt Lake (Sec, V) skyline (File Photo)

East Calcutta Wetland, with Salt Lake (Sec, V) skyline (File Photo)

Located on the eastern fringes of the city the East Calcutta Wetlands is an interesting mix of natural and man made water bodies interconnected by a complex network of canals. Covering an area of 125 square kilometers, the East Calcutta Wetland include salt marshes and salt meadows, as well as sewage farms and settling ponds and is the world’s largest wastewater fed aqua culture system.

Bonani Kakkar (left) unfolding the mystries of East Calcutta Wetlands

Bonani Kakkar (left) unfolding the mysteries of East Calcutta Wetlands

The East Calcutta Wetlands provide a very cheap, efficient and eco-friendly system of solid waste and sewer treatment system for the city of Calcutta (Kolkata), hence is considered as the “Kidneys of Calcutta.”

Sadly for majority of Calcuttans the East Calcutta wetlands is just a quick glance from the passing car window along the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass or a glimpses from the office window of Salt Lake (Sec. V).

The Jane’s Walk of the East Calcutta Wetlands kicked of from the Bantala Dock after a 3 km drive from the Paroma Island. Walk leader Bonani Kakkar, environmentalist and activist  who rums the NGO People United for Better Living in Calcutta (PUBLiC), introduced the wetlands standing next to one of the numerous sluice gates that controls the flow of water in & out of the wetlands.

Sluice Gate, East Calcutta Wetlands

Sluice Gate, East Calcutta Wetlands

According to Bonani Kakkar Calcutta (Kolkata) slopes West to East and away from the river. The East Calcutta Wetland comes to the rescue saving to the city from flooding. Time and again unplanned planning have led to excessive water logging in some pockets of the city, Bonani cited the example of Lake Town being flooded after the construction of the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass.

The walk soon started and we made our way past some  ruined structure, which according to Bonani was a sewage water treatment plant set up by the British. But Calcutta had its own natural sewage treatment system and quiet likely the plant never started operation.

Bamboo Fencing, East Calcutta Wetland

Bamboo Fencing, East Calcutta Wetland

As we made our way past one of these structure a slithering snake, which lived in perfect harmony with a family of pigs, welcomed us. Soon our discussion shifted to wildlife of East Calcutta Wetland and Bonani shared her experience of spotting monitor lizards and mongoose. Sadly our wildlife spotting was restricted to few water birds like kingfisher, cormorants, herons and the rare open bill stork.

Soon the discussion changed to ecology, and Bonani explained the role of water hyacinths in providing shade to small fishes and the role of algae in keeping the four feet deep water of the wetlands (locally called bheri) clean.

Fishing Net, East Calcutta Wetland (File Photo)

Fishing Net, East Calcutta Wetland (File Photo)

As we crossed a rickety bamboo bridge and ventured deep into the bheri region Bonani became nostalgic as she narrated about the epic battle against the West Bengal Government to protect the East Calcutta Wetlands. Bonani went on to narrate the story of  Justice Umesh Ch. Banerjee being welcomed to the bheri by a yellow coloured giant frog (locally called sona bang) on his official visit to the wetlands. Finally in 1992  it was victory for Bonani and PUBLiC, Justice Umesh Ch. Banerjee of High Court ruled that no development activity could take place without its prior permission. More success followed as in 2002 the East Calcutta Wetlands was declared as Wetland of International Importance by Ramsar Bureau.

Jane's Walk through East Calcutta Wetland

Jane’s Walk through East Calcutta Wetland

We continued our walk along narrow embankments separating one bheri from the other with the Calcutta (Kolkata) skyline in the distant horizon. We walked passed boats and fishing nets left to dry and strange bamboo screens which prevented the fish from moving from one bheri to another.

Occasionally we made way for fishermen on bicycles carrying fresh stock of fish to the market. Bonani’s husband Pradeep, who was accompanying us, explained that the East Calcutta Wetlands not only provides fish to the Calcutta market but also fresh vegetables grown in the adjoining land, which is technically a part of the wetland.

East Calcutta Wetlands, a paradise (File Photo)

East Calcutta Wetlands, a paradise (File Photo)

We finished our East Calcutta Wetland walk discussing about the threats to this fragile ecosystem. Although a protected place the land sharks are always lookout for an opportunity.  Also the toxic chemical wastes are threatening to contaminate the  fish and vegetables.

Note:

  • The File Photos are not shot during Jane’s East Calcutta Wetland Walk on 5 May 2013.

Special Thanks:

  • Bonani Kakkar for the wonderful introduction of the East Calcutta Wetlands
  • The Telegraph for hosting the Jane’s Walk in Calcutta
  • Calcutta Walks not only for its efficient management but also for supporting this blog

  1. May 8, 2013 at 10:06 AM

    Great!

  2. Pradeep Kakkar
    May 9, 2013 at 12:57 PM

    Good piece, Rangan, well written. One typo: should be sluice not swiss

    • May 9, 2013 at 3:06 PM

      Thanks Pradeep, must admit that its not a typo, frankly speaking I was unaware of the word “sluice”

      Thanks for rectifying the mistake and increasing my knowledge of East Calcutta Wetalands.

  3. May 10, 2013 at 9:42 AM

    thats yet another awesome post !! Loved it ..Sec V wetland queries answered to an extent

    • May 10, 2013 at 12:40 PM

      Thanks May Say, just go out and explore. The East Calcutta Wetlands is am amazing place.

      • May 10, 2013 at 12:54 PM

        🙂

  4. May 10, 2013 at 12:07 PM

    Very good documentation….can u tell me, if we want to do it on our own, how to go to Bantala dock ? is there any bus service ?

    • May 10, 2013 at 12:44 PM

      Sourabh you can do it on your own. There are bus service from Poroma Island / Scienc City, you have to get down at the stop before Bantala, the conductor will help you out.

      But according to me the best way to explore the wetlands is to approach it from Salt Lake (Sec V). SDF, College More and 215A terminus are good entry p;points to the East Calcutta Wetlands.

      If you are interested do get in touch with me.

  5. May 10, 2013 at 12:30 PM

    Good to read the blog and see the pics. Appreciate you Sidhu Jyatha !!

    • May 10, 2013 at 12:45 PM

      Thanks Ritwick, it was nice to have you in company during the Jane’s Walk of East Calcutta Wetlands.

  6. Indrajit Sen
    October 26, 2013 at 2:47 PM

    Brilliant post. Thanks.

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