An urban river on a gasping state: Dilemma on priority of science, conscience and policy
Former Associate Professor
Department of Geography
Women’s Christian College
6, Greek Church Row
Kolkata - 700026
In the present years ‘Adi Ganga’ may be designated as an urban river as almost for the full length of its flow it is passing across one of the world’s most congested and densely populated area i.e. Kolkata (erstwhile Calcutta) – a leading metropolis in India, the capital of West Bengal. It is the only river within the city. But presently it is serving the urban people not as a river but as a sewer carrying the filth and dirt of the people around, particularly the illegal occupiers dwelling on its banks.
Once the river had a glorious past and even today it is termed as a heritage river since it fulfills a long cultural and economic heritage of the region. Mention of this river can be traced back in many old literatures, epics and maps. Kalighat temple (Goddess Kali) located on its bank is itself a century old heritage site and is a holy Hindu pilgrimage. This once juvenile stream was a favourite trade route of the local and foreign traders. Large water vessels used to flow by carrying commodities. Its importance was even felt by Major William Tolly, who excavated it in the British period to rejuvenate the trade of lower deltaic Bengal. The river is also called ‘Tolly’s Nullah’. Historical remains spread over a checkered cultural landscape almost everywhere along its banks co-existing with today’s commercial hubs and flourishing residential high-rises.
There was life in its flowing water till a few decades back. But unfortunately its death was triggered by the detrimental human activities and short-sighted decisions of the administration. The waste matters are dropping out to the river from the lined up toilets of the shanties that belong to the migrated people from Bangladesh. Now it is suffocating and perhaps awaiting its last breath. In the name of easy transport system Metro Railway pillars were constructed right onto its bed when a river is considered as the most pollution free and cheapest mode of transport system. But the undesirable decisions from policy makers had obliterated the science of nature, ecological balance, sustainable economic viability and other natural processes.
The example of this river raises some pertinent questions on prioritization of the issues – whether at all there will be a point of priority on the issues based on natural resources where natural components are attached with the demands of people. Or the point on whether a man’s perspective (from the viewpoint of individual or mass) and the decision of the representatives and implementers should work hand in hand to create a balanced relationship between man and nature or between ‘water’ and ‘policy’.
With this objective the study has been focused on all the points mentioned here – water, people’s perspective and policy matter and its implementation.
Key words: urban river water, urban transport, squatter population, environmental degradation, policy matters.