Kolkata's ponds on shaky ground

About 44 percent of Kolkata city's ponds have disappeared in the last two decades. The importance of preserving these water bodies that serve as a lifeline for people cannot be overemphasised.
College Square tank or Gol Dighi, one of the very old ponds in Kolkata College Square tank or Gol Dighi, one of the very old ponds in Kolkata

Urban water bodies have an important role in the urban ecology. It is not just a source or water collected somewhere but is an integral part of life--a haven for different types of trees, insects, birds and small animals. For a densely populated city like Kolkata, ponds serve as a kind of oasis that support diverse life forms, replenishing groundwater and providing water to about a million people who has made the city home. But once ubiquitous, the ponds in the city are today, slowly giving up to the pressure of urbanisation.

“It is a poor man’s resource and one of the main reasons for its negligence,” says Dr Mohit Ray, an environmentalist who has studied the plight of ponds in Kolkata and an advocate for its protection. “Where the ponds are filled up, these people, especially in the northern part of the city struggle for water on the streets while in the southern Kolkata, the ponds serve as a place for socialising, rituals and more, besides using the water for bathing and other household work,” he adds. 

Ray has also studied and documented many of these ponds that are at least a century old as having historical and cultural significance. He has also listed 55 of them as heritage ponds. For example, the oldest pond in Kolkata, Sen Dighi, is about 800 years old and another pond, Jhinjiri Pukur, has seen the legend and polymath Rabindra Nath Tagore sketching beside its banks. Though not officially recognised as ‘heritage’ sites, these ponds tell stories of the glorious past of the city and can serve as a window to an incredible history for the young. 

About two decades back, the number of ponds in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation area was estimated to be 8731 by National Atlas & Thematic Mapping Organisation. In the year 2006, Google's satellite imagery of Kolkata showed it to be 4889. Considering a 10 percent variability, the number of ponds would be between 4400 to 5400, hinting that roughly 44 percent of the city’s ponds have succumbed to urbanisation. 

As growing urbanisation swallows huge swathes of space to accommodate its ever-increasing population, the fate of the remaining water bodies rests on shaky ground. Watch the video to find out more about these beautiful water bodies. 

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