Protecting the Environment is something that should be as good as protecting oneself from perils of danger. One such sensitive zone in a mega metropolis like Kolkata are the ‘East Kolkata Wetlands’ and the vast expanse it covers and the constant threat it faces due to shrinking land for urban development. So protecting such diverse zone is of primary importance for more reasons than one.
The East Kolkata Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Act, 2006 (W.B. Act No. VII of 2006) is one such Act that provides statutory recognition for the Wetlands and its protection based on the Ramsar Convention (Iran).
The East Kolkata Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Act, 2006
Published on March 31, 2006 in the Kolkata Gazette, Extraordinary, by the Government of West Bengal, Law Department (Legislative). The Act was preceded by the W.B. Ordinance No. VII of 2005. The Act deemed to have come into force on the 16th day of November, 2005.
The Objectives of the Act , 2006 are to provide for conservation and management of the ‘East Kolkata Wetlands’ as there is an increasing pressure on the land for human settlement leading to filling up of the wetlands and the East Kolkata wetlands are ecologically and socio-economically very important. “East Kolkata Wetlands” means such of the areas included in the list of Ramsar Sites as are specified in Schedule I and shown in the map in Schedule II.
“Ramsar Sites” means the wetlands of international importance under Ramsar Convention.
“Ramsar Convention” means the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands Ramsar Iran.
The Preamble of this Act further points out that the wetlands act as regulator of water regime, source for underground water recharging, mechanism for waste treatment, air quality purifier and store for fire fighting and have great ecological significance for human life.
The Act provides for setting up by the State Government the “East Kolkata Wetlands Management Authority” as a body corporate having perpetual succession and a common seal with power to acquire, hold and dispose of property and to contract. Such Authority may, by its said name, sue or be sued.
It may be noted that Ramsar is a Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramser, Iran, in 1971, which is inter governmental treaty providing the framework for national action and international co-operation for the convention and wise use of wetlands and their resources. There are 147 contracting parties to the Convention, with 1524 wetland sites, adding up to 129.2 million hectares, designed for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. The East Kolkata Wetlands are one of them. (vide “Wetland Victory- 1, One Ordinance; Mary Heroes” by Aditi Roy Ghatak, published in “The Statesman”, Kolkata, dated 9.12.2005).
In the article, “Wetland Victory” it has been pointed out that a Calcutta High Court order on 16 November has directed the State Govt. to demolish all constructions along the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass under the Bantala Police Station and return the wetlands to their original sate.
It is mandatory for every person holding any land in the East Kolkata wetlands to maintain and perverse such land in a manner that its area is not diminished, or its character is not changed, or it is converted for any purpose other than the purpose for which it was settled or previously held, except with the previous sanction of the Authority u/s. 10 . (Section 9)
Section 10 of the Act lays down the procedure for granting sanction by the Authority for change of character or mode of use of the land held by any person in the East Kolkata Wetlands. But the Authority shall have no power to grant sanction for change of character or mode of use of land unless the change is for improvement or upkeep of the local environment and its surroundings.
Where the Authority is satisfied that the character or mode of use of a land is being changed or has been changed in contravention of any provision of this Act the Authority may, by order in writing, require the person responsible for the change to restore the land, at his own expense, to the original character or mode of use within a period specified in the order and, in case of default by such person, undertake the restoration by itself and recover the cost thereof as arrears of land-revenue. (Vide Section 11)
The State Government is empowered to give direction from time to time, to the Authority who shall be guided, in performance of its functions, by such directions, provided no such direction shall be inconsistent with any provision of this Act. ( Section 16)
Power is conferred on the State Government by Notification to include any area in, or exclude any area from, or enlarge, curtail or modify any areas of, East Kolkata Wetlands and, thereupon, Schedule I and Schedule II shall be deemed to have been amended accordingly. Such power is to be exercised if it is of opinion that it is expedient or necessary in the public interest. (Section 17)
The Act makes failure to comply with or contravention of any provision of the Act or the rules made, or orders issued thereunder a cognizable and non-cognizable offence and punishable with imprisonment with may extend to three years or with fine which may extend to one lac rupees or with both, and in case such failure or contravention continues, with an additional fine which may extend upto five thousand rupees for every day during which such failure or contravention continues after the conviction for first such contravention. (Section 18).
Section 19 deals with offences by a Company and body corporate, which includes firm, association or individuals. Section 20 deals with offences by officers of the State Government or local bodies.
Section 23 confers power on the State Government by notification to make rules for carrying out the purposes of the Act.
Few Notable Sections from the Act:Section 8 . Application for change of character or mode of use of land –
(1) Any person holding a land in the East Kolkata Wetlands may apply for a change of character or mode of use of the land, to the Authority in Form 1, in triplicate .
(2) The application shall be accompanied with fees as may be fixed by the Authority from time to time.
(3) The receipt of the application shall be acknowledged by the Authority.
(4) The Authority shall, on receipt of the application, examine the merit of the case and if necessary cause an inspection of the proposed site throw an expert committee:
Provided that if the Authority believes that there is no merit in the case, it may, after giving the applicant a reasonable opportunity of being heard, reject the application for change of character or mode of use of land and inform the applicant within 60 days of receipt of the said citing reasons for rejection.
(5)The Authority shall after examination of the merit of the case and inspection of the proposed side, refer the application with observations thereof, in duplicate, to the Collector of the concerned District, within 60 days, for taking necessary actions for issuance of an order under section 4(c) of the West Bengal Land Reforms Act, 1955.
Section 9 . Maintenance and preservation of land in East Kolkata Wetlands –
(1) Not withstanding anything contained in any law for the time being in force, every person holding any land in the East Kolkata Wetland shall maintain and preserve such land in a manner its area is not diminishes or its character is not changed, or it is not converted for any purposed other than the purpose for which was settled or previously held, except with the previous sanction of the Authority under Section 10.
Section 10 . Procedure for granting section —
(1) Any person holding a land in the East Kolkata Wetlands may apply, in such manner as may be prescribed, to the Authority for change of character or mode of use of the land.
(2) The Authority shall, on receipt of the application, examine the merit of the case and, if necessary, inspect the proposed site.
(3) After examination of the case and inspection, if any, of the proposed site under sub-section(2), the Authority shall refer the case to the Collector of the concerned District for taking necessary action for issuance of an order under Section 4C of the West Bengal Land Reforms Act, 1955 (West Ben Act X of 1956)
(4) On receipt of the order from the Collector of the concerned District, the Authority may pass, in such form and with such restrictions and conditions as may be prescribed, an order granting sanction for change of character or more of use of the land:
Provided that if the sanction may result in filling up of water body, the Authority shall, prior to granting sanction under this sub-section, require the person to create at an appropriate place within the East Kolkata Wetlands a water body of which the area shall not be less than the area of the water body which may be so filled up.
(5) Nothing in this section shall empower the Authority to grant sanction for change of character or mode of use of a land unless the change is for improvement pr upkeep of the local environment and its surroundings.
Section 11 . Restoration of land to originate character or mode of use. –
(1) Authority is, either suo motu or on receipt of any information, satisfied that the character or mode of use of a land is being changed or has been changed in contravention of any provision of this Act, it may, by order in writing, require the person responsible for the change to restore the land, at its own expense to the original character or mode of use within such period as may be specified in the order. And, in case of default by such person, under take the restoration by itself and recover the cost there of as arrears of land revenue:
Provided that before passing the order the authority shall give the person a reasonable opportunity of being heard. The Authority may use appropriate technology and method in determining whether a land comprises or has comprised a wet land or whether water is being or has been drawn from a wetland so as to change the character or mode of use of the wetland or whether a wetland is being or has been filed up partially or fully or whether a wetland is being or has been encroached upon in any manner.