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Ms. Krishna Ghosh

Krishna Ghosh is working as Lecturer and
Head of the Department of Architecture at
Women's Polytechnic Kolkata. She graduated
in Architecture from Bengal Engineering
College, Shibpur, Howrah and completed her
post graduation in Regional Planning from
I.I.T Kharagpur. She has been involved in
architectural practice in Kolkata. Currently
her area of interest includes urban water
resource management.

Suchandra Bardhan
Suchandra Bardhan is a Landscape Architect
with a doctoral degree in Engineering. She is
currently serving as a faculty member at the
Department of Architecture, Jadavpur
University. She has active interest in research
on Building & Environment and has received
many honours throughout her career. A
member of prominent professional institutes
as well as learned societies, she also serves
on two Editorial Boards.

Dr. Souvanic Roy

Dr. Souvanic Roy is a Professor in the
Department of Architecture, Town and
Regional Planning and Founder-Director of
the School of Ecology, Infrastructure and
Human Settlement Management in Bengal
Engineering and Science University, Shibpur,
West Bengal. He is engaged in teaching,
action research, consultancy and advocacy in
the areas of Urban and Regional Planning,
Environmental Planning and application of
alternative technology in Architecture. Prof.
Roy has also published several articles in
books, international and national referred

Urban Water-Bodies and

Wetlands: Management Needs
and Challenges in
Indian Cities*
Krishna Ghosh,
Suchandra Bardhan,
Souvanic Roy

National Water Mission under National Action Plan on Climate Change has
recognized the imminent water stress conditions in the country due to climate
change. Asian countries like India is in the process of rapid progress and
urbanization, though the ideal urban growth model suitable in facing the
climate change crisis is yet to be found. It is already clear that the past and
current pattern of natural resource management in cities has failed to address
the environmental concerns and cities play a major role in wasteful
consumption of natural resources especially water resources. IPCC fourth
assessment report identified urban areas (WGII) as hot spots in terms of
vulnerability to climate change. Also, India's Urban Development Ministry has
taken up rating system of Indian cities according to 19 sanitation parameters
including sewage, waste and water management. This paper discusses the role
and significance of urban water-bodies and wetlands from public health,
sanitation and climate change adaptation-cum-mitigation viewpoints and
attempts to identify the causes contributing to their present state of abuse
considering technological, anthropogenic and institutional parameters. It also
investigates successful case-studies to understand the current facilitators of
and barriers to their social acceptability. This paper further argues that
strategies like replication etc. for water resources management are not only
important for future urban growth but also to retrofit existing cities to improve
their performance in terms of environmental health and sanitation.
Water resources, wetlands, health and sanitation, Carbon sequestration,
Adaptation and Mitigation in cities
*Paper received from Healthy Cities Conference 2011.


Urban Water-Bodies and Wetlands: Management Needs and Challenges in Indian Cities



Urban water-bodies and wetlands (UWW), either
natural or man-made had always been the lifeline of
Indian cities since ancient times as they sustained life
and activities be it drinking, agriculture or industry. It is
estimated that by 2025 more than 50% of the country's
population will live in cities and towns. Rapid
urbanization, population increase, rising incomes and
industrial growth are resulting in stress and depletion of
available and finite water resources. Decline in per capita
water availability and deteriorating water quality due to
pollution and contamination are emerging as major
threats. This calls for efficient management
interventions of urban water resources as their very
existence is being challenged due to effects of rapid
urbanization and burgeoning population along with the
impending threat of climate change. This paper
discusses the unique case study of 'The East Kolkata
Wetlands', that has been internationally acclaimed as a
model of wise use of wetlands for its symbiotic role
with the city in terms of environmental benefits and
sanitation in the backdrop of a generic overview of UWW
of other cities. Identification of the challenges
threatening its existence along with possible remedial
measures has been attempted in this paper.

Predicted Water Demand for Major Indian

The overall objective of the National Water Mission is
conservation of water, minimizing wastage and
ensuring its more equitable distribution both across and
within States through integrated water resources
development and management, very relevant for the
management of UWW in Indian cities. The UN
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
meeting on 26th November 2002 declared that access to
water is a human right and that water is a public
commodity fundamental to life. But a World Bank Report
predicts that acute water shortage will affect half of the
world's population by 2030 and all the major Indian cities
may run dry [1].






Water Demand
As per DJB As per DDA
@60 GPCD @80 GPCD

The future demand of water for Delhi and Chennai are

indicated in Table1 and Fig.1. The population in Mumbai

Fig. 1: Demand and supply status of Chennai

water-scenario.htm [3]

is expected to rise to 1.65 crore by 2021. Consequently

the water demand is also expected to shoot up to
5400MLD [4].
A study commissioned by Kolkata Environment
Improvement Project (KEIP) predicts a drop in the
demand supply ratio from 101:125 to 100:75 by 2025 in
The above predictions regarding water scarcity in the
future in all the metropolitan cities of India appears to be
alarming and this needs serious attention in designing
urban development strategies especially for large and
metropolitan cities.

Relevance of UWW
A. Functions and Attributes
UWW are life supporting ecosystems in terms of
environment and socio-economic context. Maintenance
of hydrological balance as source of water, through
storage and regulation of water table, their role as 'floodcushions,' water purification, nutrient retention,
maintaining climatic stability both at micro and macro
levels, their role as carbon 'sinks' and in carbon
sequestration are the plethora of functions they
perform. They harbor a rich biological diversity and are
the sources of many genetic materials used in research
and product development. In many cases they act as
sources of livelihood for a large section of city
population. Besides, a rich cultural heritage has always
been associated with these wetlands.

Climate Change

Sharma and Tomar [5] have enumerated how vulnerable


Urban Water-Bodies and Wetlands: Management Needs and Challenges in Indian Cities

Indian cities are to the effects of climate change. Climate

change will lead to temperature rise leading to alteration
in the global monsoon system thereby affecting
precipitation. A mean sea level rise of 0.8m over the
century is expected. Extreme events like storms,
cyclones drought and floods would lead to huge loss in
infrastructure, livelihood and population and migration
from rural to urban areas. Coastal metropolitan cities like
Mumbai, Chennai etc. are likely to be the most affected.
Wetlands contain 14% of the terrestrial biosphere
carbon pool and they have the largest soil carbon stock in
the world. According to Kusler [6], climate change will
likely affect the potentiality of wetlands to sequester
carbon. Increased CO2 in the atmosphere will result in
increased plant growth in most wetlands thereby
resulting in increased carbon sequestration. Increased
rainfall would result in sediment deposition in some
wetlands. Increased temperature will lead to decrease in
ground and surface water levels of wetlands which may
result in decomposition and decrease in sequestration.

Status of Water Bodies and Wetlands in Major

Indian Cities
Irrespective of the innumerable functions served by
these ecosystems, their very existence is critically
endangered in the Indian cities. It has been reported that
due to rapid urbanization and industrialization, most of
the 3000 water bodies, in and around Chennai are fast
disappearing In the 1960's, the city of Bangalore had 262
lakes but now only 10 hold water . An NGO had identified
794 water bodies in the city of New Delhi while the
authorities could identify only 623 in 2005. In 2006, DDA

claimed that 37 water bodies which were lost due to

encroachment were never in existence while 39 others
were beyond recovery. The East Kolkata Wetlands are
also vanishing at the rate of 1% per year and are being
severely threatened by human encroachment and
Again the decline in the quality and quantity of available
water resources is a direct consequence of poor
sanitation. Only 29% of the wastewater emanating from
423 Class 1 cities is treated [7]. The remaining untreated
waste water finally finds its way to the groundwater,
UWW causing serious water pollution. India's Ministry of
Urban Development commissioned a survey for ranking
of 'healthy and clean' cities. 19 sanitation indicators
were used to rank large cities with more than 100,000
populations. The results of the study on Indian cities
were found to be very discouraging.

Management Needs and Challenges

The challenges encountered by the UWW are primarily:
hydrological alterations, increased sedimentation,
atmospheric deposition of pollutants and alterations in
wetland biodiversity characteristics. It is observed that
various development activities in and around the urban
areas, draining and conversion of the wetlands,
hydrologic manipulations, siltation, lack of awareness of
the local people, complex ownership of wetlands are the
primary causes for the problems mentioned above. It is
likely that the stresses encountered by the UWW may be
further aggravated by the effects of climate change and
hence there is an emergent need for sustainable urban
wetland management practices to be implemented
within a city or its vicinity.

Fig. 2 : Location of East Kolkata Wetlands, Source: Google Earth


Urban Water-Bodies and Wetlands: Management Needs and Challenges in Indian Cities

The concept of wise use of wetlands as a strategy in

response to management needs has gained ground in
many Asian countries. In Asia, UWW are being utilized
for many environmental services including wastewater/storm water treatment in Phnom Penh,
Cambodia, many communities in Australia, Luang Marsh
in Laos PDR, Ho Chi Min City in Vietnam, China, as well as
the Indian Kolkata Wetlands [8].

The East Kolkata Wetlands as a Model

The East Kolkata Wetlands (EKW), located between
2225' to 2240' latitude north and 8820' to 8835'
longitude east designated as a wetland of international
importance under the Ramsar Convention on August
19, 2002, are a complex of natural and human-made
wetlands adjacent to the eastern part of Kolkata (Fig.2).

Fig. 3: Waste Recycling Region for Kolkata City, Source: CMWSA 1996 [9]

Fig. 4: Waste Water Recycling System in the East Kolkata Wetlands. Source: Roy, 2000 [10]

Urban Water-Bodies and Wetlands: Management Needs and Challenges in Indian Cities

This Waste Recycling Region as shown in Fig.3 is the

world's largest and unique wastewater fed aquaculture
system and has attracted much international attention
as a model system for the re-use of urban wastewater
and resource recovery (Fig.4 ) and the treatment of
municipal sewage and wastewater at practically no cost.
A. Land Uses
The area of land under different uses in the EKW is shown
in Table II and Fig.5 respectively.
Land Use

Area (Acres)



46% (31%)


14460 (9600 for fish


Rural Settlement



Urban Settlement



Total Area





B. Functions
The Kolkata Municipal Corporation area generates
approximately 600 million liters of sewage and waste
water everyday which is led to the fisheries of the EKW
where within a few days' detention, bio-degradation of
the organic compounds of the sewage and waste water
takes place. Networks of channels are used to supply
untreated sewage and to drain out the effluent. The
cumulative efficiency in reducing the B.O.D of the

sewage wastewater is above 80% and that in reducing

coli form bacteria is 99.99% on an average. The solar
radiation here is about 250 Langley per day sufficient for
photosynthesis [12]. The EKW consists of 351 fish farms
in addition to many small homestead ponds utilized for
pisciculture producing about 13,000 Metric Tones per
The EKW receives about 2500 Metric Tones of garbage.
Approximately 150 Metric Tones of vegetables are
supplied from the garbage filled areas everyday. The
effluent waters of the fisheries are used for irrigation in
the paddy fields and thus produce about 15,000 Metric
Tones of paddy per annum. It supports the livelihood of
60,000 residents [11].
During the monsoons, the EKW acts as storage reservoirs
and plays an important role in flood mitigation It acts as
carbon-sink and are known to produce and hold
approximately 10ml oxygen l-1 [10] Besides it has a rich
biodiversity of plant species (108), mammals (20), birds
(40) and fishes (52) [11].

Management Needs and Challenges

1) At Local Area/Ecosystem level: Being located on the

boundary of an expanding metropolis, EKW faces
constant threats from infrastructure development and
growth of real estate around it despite being officially
protected by legislation. There is a lack of a rational, need
based, equitable sewage distribution system and sewage
water due to siltation and bed-level rise of the fish ponds
which has led to reduction in fish production. Conflicts
over tenurial rights (owner-worker conflict), toxic
contamination by numerous tannery operations and
decreasing bio-diversity (reduction of 84% in bird species
diversity [8]) are also problems in this ecosystem.
The above problems in the EKW calls for efficient Land
Management, Water Quality and Water Level
Management, Vegetation and Landscape Management,
Aquatic Species Management, Organizational
Development and Management Strategies for
Protection and Enhancing Carbon Sequestering
Capabilities. This requires creating baseline inventory of
the area of EKW and its surroundings, close monitoring
of the changes in the land use and infrastructure in the
region from remote sensing data coupled with field
observation, monitoring of water and soil quality,
chemical analysis of the vegetables and fish produced in
the area, assessing constantly the emerging threats to
the ecosystem, and initiating actions to address any
undesirable changes to the ecosystem.

Fig. 5 : Land Use of EKW (2002), Source: Online Available: [11]

Presently, any proposed development in the EKW has to

seek prior permission of the East Kolkata Wetland
Management Authority (EKWMA) as the overall

Urban Water-Bodies and Wetlands: Management Needs and Challenges in Indian Cities

Fig. 6 : Urban sprawl, new settlements

and the fragile ecosystem,
Source: Roy 2000 [10]

Fig. 7: Eastward expansion of Kolkata Source: Roy, 2000 [10]

management and monitoring responsibility lies within it.

Hence intense and effective co-ordination between the
EKWMA and the other responsible management
authorities namely, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation,
the Irrigation and Waterways Department, West Bengal
Pollution Control Board, the Department of Fisheries of
Government of West Bengal, Fisheries Co-operatives
and Associations is called for. Besides, active
participation of the Non-governmental organizations
and citizens are also required for efficient management
of the EKW.

2) At the Metropolitan level: Due to the absence and

failure in implementation of an ecologically sensitive
perspective plan by the authorities, the urban sprawl is
continuing towards the east and the south of Kolkata
threatening the fragile ecosystem on the periphery of
the city. The growth of the city of Kolkata is illustrated in
Fig.6 and Fig.7

Fig. 8 : Future Spatial Structure of KMA showing

hierarchy of Centers Vision 2025 [13]

Many existing as well as new growth centers have been

identified in the vicinity of EKW in Vision-2025, published
by Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority

Fig. 9: Future Spatial Structure of KMA showing Industrial Growth

Source: Centers, Source: Vision 2025 [13]

Urban Water-Bodies and Wetlands: Management Needs and Challenges in Indian Cities

(KMDA) as shown in Fig.8 and Fig.9. But Vision 2025, if

implemented, the growth centers within KMA which are
expected to accommodate a huge population (21.068
million by 2025) and provide employment opportunities
(6236526 by 2025) [13], it is likely that the EKW may be
under severe stress once again.
The course of development of Kolkata clearly indicates
the lack of understanding about the inevitable link
between the supporting ecosystems and the pattern of
metropolitan development. Metropolitan planning had
been devoid of sufficient biophysical inputs. Since
development of the metropolis does not mean
expansion of urban limit ignoring the ecology, hence
wetland management should be considered as a critical
ecological imperative for any urban development
programme in the KMA.
3) Wetland Protection Laws: All wetlands in India are
indirectly protected by an array of laws namely Water
(Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act- 1974,
Environmental (Protection) Act-1986 etc. The latest is
the Draft Wetlands (Conservation and Management)
Rules, 2008 (WCMR) drafted by the Ministry of
Environment and Forests (nodal agency for the Ramsar
Convention) and is a part of a legally enforceable
regulatory mechanism for the identified wetlands.
However, The East Kolkata Wetlands (Conservation and
Management) Act, 2006 is primarily applicable in case of
any dispute arising in the EKW. It was enacted by the
Government of West Bengal and came into force in
November16th, 2005 following the declaration of the
EKW as a Ramsar site. Subsequent to this the East Kolkata
Wetlands Management Authority was formed.
In spite of a plethora of laws for urban wetland
protection, their existence and proper functioning are
always threatened. Here, it is not the lack of legislation
but it is the weak implementation of rules, standards and
procedures. . For example discharge of effluents by
tanneries is a glaring example of lack of enforcement.
Violation of rules can only be identified by proper
surveillance and monitoring procedures which require
immediate attention by the authority. Another major
issue is the lack of access to environmental information
on EKW resulting in inadequate public awareness about
the ecosystem. Absence of political will for supporting
the objectives of preservation of EKW and proper
enforcement of the legislation is a major impediment.
D. Future Strategies
The following strategies that may be included in the
metropolitan planning process for the sustainability of
the EKW and other wetlands too are: replication of the
successful model of EKW through appropriate scale

adaptation in different urban projects within and at the

edge of old and new growth centers through Integrated
Wetland System [9], popularizing emerging sanitation
concepts (already introduced in Maharashtra, Gujarat
etc.) like ECOSAN, a waterless, dehydration/
evaporation system providing a safe non-polluting and
cost-effective solution to the sanitation problem,
encouraging community-based wetland management
following the success story of a Mudialy Fisherman's Cooperative Society (MFCS) at an urban wetland in Kolkata,
and initiating carbon sequestration studies for assessing
the potentiality of carbon sequestration of wetlands.

All UWW should be considered as extremely important
water management infrastructure and hence they
should be embedded in the early planning process and
policies of cities. This will be possible only when
ecological planning becomes a tool for metropolitan
planning. Hence inclusion of wetland management
strategies, their implementation at local and
metropolitan level as well as enforcement of legislation
should be recognized as crucial for sustainability of
wetlands and be integrated with the policy making
process. However, it is imperative that exploration and
implementation of all future strategies mentioned
earlier be carried out with the active participation of
stakeholders at all levels for proper management of
these threatened wetlands.

We wish to acknowledge All India Council of Technical
Education and the officials of the Institute of Wetland
Management and Ecological Design, Kolkata for their
support in completing this paper.


2010 Water Shortage: Grim Future for Indian Cities [Online]

A v a i l a b l e : h t t p : / / b u s i n e s s . r e d i f f. c o m / s l i d e show/2010/jun/04/slide-show-1-world-environment-day-2010water-shortage-grim-future-for-indian-cities.htm


Dept. of Urban Development, Govt. of Delhi, City

Development Plan Delhi, JnNURM, Report, Ch8, p6, 2006.


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C. Lewis, Conserving Water one Building at a time, The Times of

India, Mumbai, May15, 2009.


D. Sharma, S. Tomar, Cities Adaptation for Climate Change

Issues, Challenges and Opportunities, in Proc. of 2nd GermanIndian Conference on Research for Sustainability, United Nations
University, Bonn, 2009, p135-140


J. Kusler , Climate Change in Wetland Areas Part 11: Carbon Cycle

Implications, Acclimations, Newsletter of the US national
Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability

Urban Water-Bodies and Wetlands: Management Needs and Challenges in Indian Cities

and Change, July-August 1999


Dayanand B. Panse, Ecological Sanitation A need of today!

Progress of Ecosan in India, DWA, Hennef and GTZ, Eschborn,
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R.C Smardon, Sustaining the World's Wetlands: Setting Policy and

Resolving Conflicts, Springer Science + Business Media LLC, 2009


Calcutta Metropolitan Water Supply Sanitation Authority

(CMWSA), Sustaining Calcutta, Present Status Report of the
Urban People's Environment, Rep. 141-150, 1996

[10] S. Roy, Ecological Sustainability and Metropolitan Developmentthe Calcutta Experience, in Proc. of Waste Recycling and
Resource Management in the Developing World, 2000, p293-302
[11] K.Taylor. (2008) Planning to Preserve the East Kolkata Wetlands
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[12] N. Kundu, M. Pal, and S. Saha, East Kolkata Wetlands: A Resource
Recovery System through Productive Activities, in Proc. of Taal
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[13] Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority (KMDA), Vision2025, Rep. Ch II 11, 15, 18-22, 2005