Bengal green activist urges PM Modi to save country’s oldest botanical garden from Ganga erosion

The prime minister cleared Rs 2,550 crore to augment Ganga-bound sewage in Bengal; no funds to stop Ganga erosion  

By Jayanta Basu
Published: Friday 30 December 2022
Environmentalist urges PM Modi to save country’s oldest botanical garden from Ganga erosion
The eastern fringe of the Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Botanic Garden in Howrah. Photo: Jayanta Basu The eastern fringe of the Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Botanic Garden in Howrah. Photo: Jayanta Basu

A West Bengal-based environmentalist has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and urged him to take immediate action for saving the Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Botanic Garden in Howrah. The garden has been highly impacted on its eastern fringe due to erosion by the Ganga river.

Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose Indian Botanic Garden, India’s largest botanical garden, is spread over 270 acres. But the erosion by the Ganga may wash away parts of its fence and inner plantation soon, according to a recent spot survey carried out by environmental and riverine experts.

Subhas Datta, an environmentalist who has filed several public interest litigations regarding environmental issues, shot the letter immediately before the Prime Minister chaired the second meeting of the National Ganga Council (NGC) December 30, 2022 in Kolkata.

The PM chaired the meeting virtually as he could not come to Kolkata due to the demise of his mother Heeraben Modi.

The meeting was attended by the Union Minister for Jal Shakti, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, other Union ministers who are members of the council and chief ministers (or their representatives) of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal.

Datta pointed out to this reporter that the Ganga has been affected not just near the garden but throughout its course in West Bengal due to a range of reasons from pollution to encroachment and needs immediate addressal.  

‘Save the garden’

“The western side of the Ganga (Hooghly) is highly susceptible owing to massive soil erosion and breaches of the embankment … such a situation has put the historic botanical garden into great difficulty and danger,” Datta wrote.

“A considerable part of the said botanical garden on its eastern side is gradually going under the river and if such an invasion cannot be arrested at the earliest, the entire garden may be affected in the future,” the letter read.

It noted that the garden is “one of the best and oldest landscaped gardens in the world, having more than 12,000 species”.

“Not only the particular portion, about 150 km, including both banks of the Ganga, out of around 520 km of the river flowing through West Bengal is highly erosion-prone and needs immediate addressal,” a senior official from Kolkata Port Trust told this reporter on the condition of anonymity.

“In 2017, a joint committee of state and central agencies requested a fund of around Rs 800 crore to save the banks. But the Union government said there was no budget and hence we could not take up any comprehensive bank restoration project. Over the years, the requisite amount must have increased to Rs 1,000 crore but we have no money for this work,” the official added.   

Datta claimed that the Kolkata Port Authority, after dredging, does not remove the dredged silt from the river stretch but instead, disposes it at a distance within the river. This leads to unevenness in the riverbed.

“We have designated areas for disposing the dredged waste which are quite far away from the dredged points,” the port official said.

“Apart from this, the river gets polluted 24X7 from various sources including the release of either fully or partly untreated sewage from urban local bodies which dot it,” claimed Datta.

“About three-fourths of the total polluted effluent load contaminating the Ganga in West Bengal is coming from urban areas, mostly within the Kolkata Metropolitan Area … we found around 54 outfalls through which polluted water was in the river about a decade back,” Arunabha Majumdar, a drainage and sewerage expert and former director of All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health said.

PM Modi laid the foundation of multiple sewerage infrastructure projects in West Bengal worth over Rs 2,550 crore December 30.

The list included seven sewerage infrastructure projects (20 sewage treatment plants or STP and a 612 km network) developed under the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) at a cost of more than Rs 990 crore.

These are to benefit municipalities like Nabadwip, Kacharapra, Halishar, Budge-Budge, Barrackpore, Chandan Nagar, Bansberia, Uttrapara Kotrung, Baidyabati, Bhadreshwar, Naihati, Garulia, Titagarh, and Panihati.

“These projects will add the sewage treatment capacity of over 200 MLD in the state of West Bengal,” a report released by the Prime Minister’s Office said.

The PM also launched five sewerage infrastructure projects (eight STPs and 80 km network) to be developed under NMCG at an estimated cost of Rs 1,585 crore.

This will add new STP capacity of 190 MLD in West Bengal that will benefit North Barrackpore, Hooghly-Chinsurah, Kolkata KMC areas such as Garden Reach and Adi Ganga (Tolly Nala) as well as Maheshtala town.

“I expect the Rs 638 crore, cleared under the project for Adi Ganga, will help us rejuvenate the oldest stretch of the Ganga,” Kolkata mayor and West Bengal’s urban development minister Firhad Hakim told this reporter December 30.

At the moment, the Adi Ganga is as polluted as a sewage canal, with no aquatic life according to the West Bengal Pollution Control Board’s analysis.

The Central Pollution Control Board has also identified parts of the Ganga flowing through West Bengal as “critically polluted.”

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