The Bhagirathi-Hooghly river flows through one of the most densely populated regions in India. Starting from Berhampore in Murshidabad, Nabadwip-Mayapur in Nadia, along the Hooghly industrial region of Bandel-Naihati, Chandannagar, Chinasurah, Serampore-Barrackpore, culminating at Kolkata-Howrah, the most densely populated region in entire eastern India. It is thus a hectic task to keep the Bhagirathi-Hooghly river pollution-free at least at the ghats. Though the ghats north of Kolkata are quite clean and well-maintained, the ghats around Kolkata are one of the dirtiest, with more space for garbage than for bathing.
The ghats along Hooghly, North 24 Pargannas and Howrah were quite poor until recently. However, almost all of them underwent extensive maintenance and renovation, as well as garbage removal. Now most of the ghats along with the river banks underwent redevelopment and brought under riverside beautification project. In Kolkata, though efforts have been made to beautify the Princep Ghat area, the other ghats still lie shabby, littered with garbage. The Millennium Park, which was expected to be the top recreational centre when inaugurated back in 2007, is now a disused place, with defunct rides and amphitheatre centres. The Babughat now has a footbridge over the ghat area, which is really clean and tourist friendly, but the ghat itself is still a garbage dump area. The stretch from Armenian Ghat to Bagbajar Ma er Ghat is worse with the riverfront being used as warehouse centres and slums. Within this stretch lies the Mallick Ghat, the largest flower market of Asia, the Jagannath Ghat, in the Burrabazar wholesale market area, Nimtala Ghat, the largest cremation centre in Kolkata, the Sovabajar Ghat, with many temples, and the Kumartuli Ghat, the area which is renowned for making Durga idols. The situation is not any better north of Bagbajar ghat in Cossipore and Baranagar. Only the Dakshineshwar Ghat fared well in northern Kolkata despite being the crowdest, attracting thousands of devotees each day.
If developed, the area could have been a major tourist hub and recreational centre. The whole Kolkata riverfront contains various tourist centres, like the Princep Ghat, the Eden Gardens Pagoda, the Metcalfe Hall and other building museums of BBD Bag, the Sarada Ma house, the Sarbamangala Temple of Cossipore, and Baranagar Ramakrishna Math. However, illegal encroachments, illegal parking slots, ill-maintenance by the municipality, lack of awareness, and most importantly, lack of our interest in our own city Kolkata is what is stopping it from developing into a Grand Strand that the cities of the West have.
How we can develop the ghats of Kolkata is being covered in the second part of this article.