India is one of the 169 signatories to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of Wetlands and their resources. There are 2,241 Ramsar sites across the world, including 26 spread across India from Wular Lake in Jammu and Kashmir to Ashtamudi Wetland in Kerala, and from Deepor Beel in Assam to Nal Sarovar in Gujarat.
Despite their vital importance to humans, across India, Wetlands are seriously threatened by reclamation and degradation through processes of drainage, land filling, discharge of domestic and industrial effluents, disposal of solid waste, and over-exploitation of the natural resources that they offer.
Here is an account of major decisions and actions by Central as well as State Governments on wetlands related issues in 2016.
In the most significant development of the year, seeking comment from concerned and stakeholders till May 31, 2016, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) issued the Draft Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules 2016. The draft 2016 Rules sought to decentralize Wetlands management to states. The Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar had hinted of the draft exactly on the eve of World Wetland Day 2016. In fact, ineffective implementation of the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules 2010 was cited as one of the reasons behind drafting the new Rules.
Interestingly, the new Rules were proposed at a time when several petitions on the implementation of the 2010 Rules have been pending at the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
New draft proposed the removal of Central Wetland Regulatory Authority (CWRA) and had provision only for the State Level Wetland Authority in each state. According to the draft Rules, the power to identify and notify Wetlands would be vested in the Chief Ministers (CM), who as chief executive of the state government as well as of the State Wetland authority was eligible to propose and notify Wetlands after accepting or rejecting recommendations.
Apart from this, the new draft also had several other questionable points and rules like absence of time frame to notify a Wetland by State Governments, absence of mentioning of harmful activities in and around the Wetlands, absence of strict provisions to restrict the violations of rules and absence of requirement for conduction of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) among others.
Realizing the cascading impact of the proposed rules, several organisations including SANDRP in May 2016 submitted strong objections to the new Rules. Experts across the country had also criticized the new Rules for diluting the critical Wetlands conservation provisions prescribed in previous drafts.
Notably, the 2010 rules had clearly prohibited activities like reclamation of Wetlands, setting up of new industries and expansion of existing industries, solid waste dumping, manufacturing or handling or storage or disposal of hazardous substances, discharge of untreated waste and effluents from industries, cities, towns and other human settlements, any construction of permanent nature and any other activities impacting the Wetlands ecosystems adversely.
In May 2016, Environment Minister disclosed that Central Government had provided Rs 146.94 crore to the different States and other organisations for conservation and management of identified Wetlands in the country. He also revealed that so far Central Government has identified 115 sites as Wetlands under the Wetlands Conservation Programme.
In November 2016, MoEF&CC constituted a four-member team for conservation and management of Loktak Lake in Manipur. The team had planned a visit to Loktak lake to have discussions with the concerned State agencies and stakeholders including people living in the vicinity of the lake. The team was expected to submit a report within a month. According to the Minister, Government was also working on upgrading the existing Wetland Research and Training Centre of Chilika Development Authority at Barkul in Odisha into the National Capacity Development Centre for Wetlands.
Amid all this, according to report, no Wetland has been notified in the country during last five years, further to this, in a revealing statement MoEF&CC has disclosed that it could find only 115 Wetlands and 63 lakes across 24 States and two Union Territories in last 30 years.
Uttar Pradesh The Yamuna Expressway industrial development authority in March 2016 has planned to develop 100 hectares of marshland area as Wetland and bird sanctuary. The 100-hectare marshland is located in Dhanauri, Thasrana, Bhatta-Parsaul and Amirpur Bangar villages, among others, off the Yamuna Expressway. According to officials, 40 hectares of marshland has been identified. The authority’s decision has come following repeated demands by activists for protection of the marshland. These marshlands are reported to be home of 198 species of birds including Sarus the state bird of the Uttar Pradesh (UP). Though activists have welcomed the step however have felt that mere declaring was not enough and wanted Government to restrict construction activity in the periphery of Wetlands.
According another news report, the Gautam Budh Nagar forest department has listed 720 water bodies, marshes including Dhanauri in the district as ‘Wetlands’. With its listing as a Wetland, Dhanauri ceased to be a ‘residential’ area as marked in the Noida master plan.
In August 2016, Greater Noida Authority decided to cover the 308 acre of Surajpur marshland under the Wetland Rules, 2010. Following this, the Gautam Budh Nagar forest department has submitted documents to support all specifications needed for such an inclusion; with the UP Government. The proposal was then put forward to the ministry of environment and forests for a final notification. Surajpur Wetland, with an expanse of 308 hectares, included a 60 ha water body. The marsh hosts a diverse bird population. It is also a destination for migratory birds. Contrary to this, the State Government has decided not to notify six areas adjoining Surajpur Wetland as Wetlands. Following this, the forest department has in a written affidavit to NGT in August 2016 have submitted that the six areas were merely low-lying areas and did not qualify as a Wetland.
In September 2016, the principal secretary of forest demanded detailed information from all tiger reserves, forest sanctuaries and the forest divisions regarding the status of Wetlands in their respective areas. The compilation of the status report was aimed at launching a comprehensive action plan for the conservation of Wetlands both in protected as well as the reserve forests. There were 503 identified Wetlands in the protected as well as the reserve forest areas in UP of which 132 Wetlands were present in protected tiger reserve while three were there in social forestry division of the district.
Haryana Recognizing the importance of about 120-odd water bodies, which had either shrunk or have just vanished, Municipal Corporation of Gurugram (MCG) has decided to rejuvenate them. Corporate offices located in the millennium city have also offered to sponsor the initiative as part of their CSR fund for sustainability.
The forest department of Gurugram has reportedly started building a rainwater harvesting dam at Raisaina in the Aravalis, to recharge depleting groundwater level and tackle water logging. As per the report, the structures will cover over 100 ha and harvest around 10 crore litres a year. Four earthen dams have already been built in Manesar, Ghamroz and Ferozpur Jhirka villages in Gurgaon, Nuh and Mewat respectively.
Jammu and Kashmir In order to safeguard migratory birds from poaching, Additional District Magistrate (ADM) Srinagar has directed all the persons holding Arms Licenses and living within the five kilometers of Shalla-bugh, Hokersar Wetlands and Dal Lake to deposit their guns in their concerned police stations till end of April 2017.
Rajasthan The State Government in February 2016 has decided to form a committee to conserve the Wetlands areas in the State. Reviewing Keoladeo National Park, the CM also has instructed to rid the lake of cat fish that has become a menace for the Wetland. Similarly stressing on revival of conventional water bodies, the State Government has launched the water conservation mission. In the first phase of mission water conservation activities are reported to be taken up in 3000 villages facing acute water problems. 6000 more villages would be covered under the mission in second phase.
Gujarat Even after six years, the State Government failed to constitute a Wetland Conservations Authority and a steering committee as directed under National Wetland Conservation Programme (NWLP). Though the guidelines were mandated in 2011 by the Central Government, Gujarat had failed to even begin the process to constitute the committee. The committee’s role was to examine Wetlands, review conservation activities and make recommendations to the central government and financial agencies for various projects required for conservation. Incidentally, Gujarat has the maximum (22.7 per cent) Wetland area in the country.
Goa Like Gujarat, Goa Government also appeared reluctant towards protection of the Wetlands in the State. Though the draft state water policy had drawn up a list of water bodies but failed to mention the important Wetlands in sustaining fish, aquatic biota and groundwater recharge. On the contrary the Government agencies were reportedly spending crores of rupees on concretization of lakes and water bodies under beautification and flood protection schemes.
Maharashtra In November 2016, acting upon complains by locals and activists, the District Collectorate initiated investigation into an alleged destruction of mangroves, reclamation and levelling of Wetlands to make way for a private parking area for nearly 500 vehicles at Madh, Malad (West). Officials also asked the owners to remove all the vehicles from the site. As per report, it was the third such violation 2016, where Wetlands were converted into parking lots.
Chhattisgarh The State Government has decided to undertake a survey using remote sensing technology for mapping the location of ponds, rivers and other water bodies to encourage fish farming. According to sources the State has sufficient number of ponds, water bodies and rivers to produce fish of any variety. Therefore, the government is carrying out a remote sensing survey to identify location of these water bodies to use them for fish rearing.
Telangana To monitor its water bodies, the State Irrigation Department (ID) has joined hands with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) to set up Telangana Water Resources Information System. The new system would update satellite imagery of all water bodies in the state every fortnight. The data provided by the images would be used by concerned department to plan effective water use. The data could also be used for monitoring the effectiveness of Mission Kakatiya programme
Kerala In July 2016, inaugurating a workshop on climate change, CM Pinarayi Vijayan has said that a series of failures in the past had led to the decline of Wetlands affecting water availability and thus the agricultural sector. He further stated that the government would focus on protection of paddy fields and Wetlands in the State as part of a program to build resilience to climate change.
The State Government has also planned to revive about 600 water bodies in the state as part of a drought relief plan. The new mission has aimed at de-silting and removing slurry and waste from ponds, lakes and constructing minor check dams. As per report Rs one crore each was given to each district collector for using it to recharge water bodies. Following this Kannur, Kozhikode, Ernakulam and Pathanamthitta districts have together taken up cleaning of more than 450 ponds and large water bodies.
Karnataka In June 2016, the Central Government also approved a series of measures for the abatement of pollution and for the conservation of lakes in Bengaluru. It has been decided to initiate 24×7 online monitoring of all STPs, as well as lake water quality by concerned authorities. The Karnataka Lake Conservation and Development Authority also invited corporate sector for restoration of threatened lakes. Following this, Forest Department, Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike, and Bangalore Development Authority, made a presentation of rejuvenation works under progress and those yet to be taken up, seeking funds for projects. In response, five corporate firms have signed the Expression of Interest with KLCDA.
In Jan 2016, the Lakebed Encroachment Committee (LEC) formed by State Government in 2014 revealed that a third of Bengaluru lakes have been encroached upon by Bangalore Development Agency (BDA) while two-thirds have been encroached by private builders and developers. LEC report also disclosed that a total 11,000 acres of lakes from 1545 lakes in both Bengaluru urban and rural districts were encroached. As per the report, BDA had allegedly allocated 60,000 plots by encroaching lakes in the city.
Similarly the LEC also reported of several discrepancies in the number of encroached lakes recorded by concerned agencies. According to LEC report, the number of lakes under threat in the Bengaluru East taluk was 118 whereas the taluk tahsildar cited records of only 110 encroached lakes. LEC reportedly found similar discrepancies in other taluks as well. In some cases, the number of encroached lakes had gone up. In Bengaluru South taluk, their number as per LEC report was 201, but the number claimed by the tahsildar was 210. Even in Anekal taluk, similar problems were noticed.
On the other hand, a report has revealed that the Centeral Government directive asking State Government to bring the city’s water bodies under the purview of MoEF&CC remained only on paper with the Karnataka Government not taking any action to implement it thus far. The directive was issued about three years ago.
Notably the Bengaluru 2015 floods were largely attributed to encroachments on storm water drains (SWDs), lakes, and tanks. A report sent by the State Government to the Centre pointed out that Rs 800 crore were allotted for remodeling and construction of SWDs in vulnerable points across the city. According to report, of the 183 lakes that fall under the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) limits, 123 were managed by the Palike, while the remaining 60 were under other civic agencies of the city.
West Bengal In August 2016, waking up to the damages to East Kolkata Wetlands (EKW) by her own partymen, CM Mamta Banerjeen instructed police to take stern action against illegal filling up of EKW for real estate purposes. The EKW and other Wetlands in the State scattered around Kolkata have been at receive end of unregulated real estate boom taking place for last few years.
In sharp contrast to this, Mamta Banerjee in 2015 had announced to regularize about 25, 000 illegal constructions inside EKW areas and to protect the owners from the Kolkata Municipal Corporation. Notably the Government had formed a management committee under the chief secretary to ensure that none of the plots identified as Wetlands is filled up for construction activities.
In more surprising turn of events, in June 2016, State Environment Minister Sovan Chatterjee, also the Mayor of Kolkata, wished to alter the status of the Wetlands to the east of EM Bypass to take up development projects. Betraying a shocking ignorance of the relevance of Wetlands ecosystems to the livelihoods of the poor – and of the lives of people of his constituency the Minister also said that Wetlands conservation ‘means little to the common man’.
On the other hand, in July 2016, the State Fisheries Minister Chandranath Sinha launched a campaign to create awareness among common citizens about the importance of Wetlands and to protect them from encroachment. The Minister has been reportedly trying to frame a fresh policy on saving Wetlands with other government departments and adopt an integrated approach for it.
Compiled by Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org) SANDRP
To read first part of the report, kindly visit India’s Wetlands 2016: Encroached and Polluted
To read third part of the report, kindly visit: Wetlands Review 2016:Legal Interventions