Changing Waterscapes: The Dichotomy of Development and Water Management Surrounding the East Calcutta Wetlands Since the British-colonial Era
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The deltaic region of Bengal is known for its riverine networks and fertile soil. The capital of former British- India, Calcutta, was a swampy region with small canals connecting the land with the river Hooghly in the west and to the saltwater lakes in the east, now known as the East Calcutta Wetlands (ECW). The eastern canals carry the city’s wastewater to the ECW for treatment using sewage-fed fisheries and farmlands and then released it into the Bay of Bengal via the Kulti River. In the early British colonial period, the salt lakes were depicted as hindrance to the health and well-being of the city’s inhabitants because of high mortality in the region, presumably caused by miasmic diseases. Part of these marshes, the ECW now acts as a giant sink for this dense post-colonial urban settlement, helping to drain the land, providing food and employment, and saving costs for artificial wastewater treatment plant. This hydrologic system is now at risk due to encroachment from real-estate development and pollution in the adjoining canals, posing an immense threat to this critical human-water relationship. In this paper, we examine the dichotomy of urban development and water management since the colonial era to assess the temporal nature of the human-water negotiations behind the changing waterscapes.