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readers' submissions

The Magic of Dhapa

Where waste turns into wealth

By Rima Ray

March 12, 2010


A story of the East Kolkata Wetlands 

Along the eastern fringes of one of the most populous cities of India lies 12500 hectares of wetlands that is home to various species of birds like coot, kingfisher, cormorant, eagle, teal and small animals like marsh mongoose, palm civet and the endangered mud turtle.  Seen from above it stands out for its striking green and blue patches that are in sharp contrast to the grays and the browns, which is the city of Kolkata, next to it. 

However this is no ordinary wetland bordering a city for this is where an incredible story unfolds every day. This is where Kolkata literally turns its waste into wealth.

Popularly known as Dhapa, the city pumps all its sewage and wastewater, roughly 600 million liters of it, here. The sewage is then biodegraded in the fish ponds of the local fishermen of these wetlands and serves as food for the fish. These sewage fed fisheries produce about 11000 metric tons of fish annually. Fish and the majorly Bengali denizen of Calcutta are almost inseparable and the city gets a third of its fish from Dhapa.

Dhapa thus treats the city’s effluents at no extra cost as the city has no wastewater treatment plant for the purpose!

Fish from sewage is but a part of the magic that Dhapa weaves. Dhapa, is also where the city dumps 2500 tons of its solid waste a day. The designated dumping sites used as garbage fills in turn help grow vegetables. So the city of Calcutta gets 150 metric tons of vegetables from its garbage dump every day.

And the story does not end there. These wetlands are also referred to as the lungs of Calcutta by some environmentalists who claim that these low lying water bodies act like sinks for carbon dioxide thus considerably improving the quality of the atmosphere.

Sadly Dhapa’s existence stands threatened today by the ever burgeoning population of the very city it serves.   Declared a Ramsar Site (the ultimate status in biodiversity conservation) in 2002, Dhapa is constantly battling off efforts of encroachment.

Come witness the magic and the struggles of this most unique and delicately balanced ecosystem. Stay in the luxury of a 5 star hotel built on the edges of Dhapa, on land  that used to be part of it or put up in the thatched hut of a fisherman in Dhapa (they are doing their bit for conservation by promoting eco-tourism) and expect no luxury but Indian hospitality at its best.  Be warned that at the fisherman’s, accommodation will be sparse and there may even be no electricity but a rice and fish (from the fishponds of Dhapa) curry meal will make this an experience like few other.

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