A private residential housing project complex at City Centre, the heart of the city of Durgapur which was stopped after Trinamool took charge of Asansol Durgapur Development Authority (ADDA) in 2011 because of the site’s proximity to a heritage tunnel and pond used in the Mughal era, has been restarted.
Trinamool had earlier opposed the construction of the residential complex — Aquapolis —in 2010, a few months after the project got started. Construction of the premium residential complex of Aquapolis was started by ADDA in association with two private developers in 2009, when left front was in power in the state.
Construction was stopped after Trinamool took charge of ADDA in 2011. Asansol mayor Tapas Banerjee was then in charge of the authority. But current ADDA chairman Nikhil Banerjee has allowed the two developers to resume work, sparking criticism from the residents of Durgapur.
“The developers are destroying the pond by dumping earth. We have urged the administration to stop the project immediately,” said Sudhajit Mukherjee, a human rights activist.
Around 200 Durgapur residents have submitted memorandums to the Burdwan district magistrate, Durgapur mayor and the pollution control board, accusing the private real-estate developers of damaging the pond.
They alleged that earth dug up from the project site was being dumped into the pond on one end of the tunnel, reducing the size of the water body. They also fear that once the housing complex gets completed, pumps would suck the pond’s water.
According to local historians and administrative officials, women in the Mughal era used to bathe inside the tunnel, using the water of the pond. According to local lore, years later, the tunnel was used by dacoit Bhabani Pathak to escape from British soldiers and zamindars.
The heritage conservation committee of the Durgapur Municipal Corporation declared the tunnel and the pond a heritage site in 2009. Even a signboard was put up, mentioning that under the West Bengal Preservation of Historical Monuments and Objects and Excavation of Archaeological Sites Act, 1957, damaging heritage sites is a punishable offence. The maximum punishment under the act is 10 years’ imprisonment along with a fine of Rs 5000.
“Following a survey by the West Bengal Heritage Commission, our heritage conservation committee had declared the tunnel and the rectangular pond a heritage site,” said Rathin Roy, a former Left mayor and president of the heritage conservation committee of Durgapur.
Dutta Builders and Developers Pvt. Ltd. and SSE Nirman Pvt. Ltd. who bagged the contract to construct the residential complex in the public-private partnership mode said that are not aware of the historical importance of the place.
Kamal Dutta, the owner of Dutta Builders and Developers Pvt. Ltd., said he was not aware that the pond and the tunnel were heritage sites of such significance “I have no idea that it is a heritage site. I purchased the land from ADDA at Rs 2 lakh a cottah and promised to sell 16 of the 160 flats at cost price. I have also paid ADDA Rs 405 a sq. ft of the proposed building area,” Dutta said.
ADDA chairman Nikhil Banerjee said the developers were allowed to resume work after they “promised” that they would not damage the heritage site. “The project was conceived and registered during the Left rule and so I could not scrap it. I have asked the developers to restart work without causing any damage to the pond and the tunnel,” he said.
Former CPM MLA of Durgapur, Biprendu Chakraborty, who was a member of the ADDA board when the housing project began refused to comment on the project. “I was only a member of the ADDA board and did not sanction the project,” he said. CPM MP Bansagopal Chowdhury, who was the then ADDA chairman, was not available for comment.