Dams · Wetlands

India Wetlands Review 2017: Important Governments Decisions

Central Government Decisions

Environment ministry notifies new wetland rules In a major decision, the union environment ministry notified the new Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules 2017 on 26 Sept. 2017 replacing the 2010 version of the rules. The draft of the Wetland Rules was first presented by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) in March 2016. But they were severely criticized by conservationists who had alleged that the draft rules don’t mention anything about a national regulator and don’t list specific activities prohibited in these ecologically sensitive areas.

The new rules stipulate setting up of a State Wetlands Authority in each State and union territories that will be headed by the State’s environment minister and include a range of government officials. They will also include one expert each in the fields of wetland ecology, hydrology, fisheries, landscape planning and socioeconomics to be nominated by the state government.

The State authorities will also need to prepare a list of all wetlands of the State or union territory within three months, a list of wetlands to be notified within six months, a comprehensive digital inventory of all wetlands within one year which will be updated every ten years.

To oversee the work carried out by States, the rules stipulates for setting up of National Wetlands Committee, which will be headed by the MoEFCC Secretary, to monitor implementation of these rules. The Committee will also advise the Central Government on appropriate policies and action programmes for conservation and wise use of wetlands, recommend designation of wetlands of international importance under Ramsar Convention, advise on collaboration with international agencies on issues related to wetlands etc. http://www.livemint.com/Politics/y6Tr3tkrr3q28AmGKaBFII/Environment-ministry-notifies-new-wetland-rules.html  (Live Mint, 28 Sept. 2017)

Experts Term New Wetlands Rules A Complete Disaster

Experts felt the new wetland rules have seriously weakened the existing regulations. They pointed out that provisions like “central government may consider proposals from the state government or union territory administration for omitting any of the (prohibited) activities on the recommendation of the authority” in the new rules can be misused.

They also stated that as per the 2010 version of the rules, there was a Central Wetlands Regulatory Authority (CWRA) which will now be replaced by a national committee, with only advisory role. Another major objection is about the process of appeal against the decisions of wetland authorities. According to the 2010 rules, anyone aggrieved with the CWRA’s decisions could have filed an appeal with the National Green Tribunal (NGT), but the new 2017 rules are silent on the appeal process.

As per a legal expert, the new rules falls short in details. He also said that at the outset, the identification process by the State Wetland Authority did not distinguish between existing wetlands and especially those past wetlands which have been encroached and can be proved through legal documents. He stated that the other big gap is the subjective definition of “wise use” which is to be determined by the state wetland authority. http://www.livemint.com/Politics/y6Tr3tkrr3q28AmGKaBFII/Environment-ministry-notifies-new-wetland-rules.html (Live Mint, 28 Sept. 2017)

Wetlands can be defined as lands transitional between terrestrial and aquatic eco-systems where the water table is usually at or near the surface or the land is covered by shallow water. Photo: HT
Wetlands can be defined as lands transitional between terrestrial and aquatic eco-systems where the water table is usually at or near the surface or the land is covered by shallow water. Photo: HT

Another report explained some significant difference between Wetland conservation & Management Rules 2010 & 2017. The 2010 Rules specifically included in the definition of wetlands “all inland waters such as lakes, reservoir, tanks, backwaters, lagoon, creeks, estuaries and man-made wetland and the zone of direct influence on wetlands”. These have not been spelt out in the 2017 Rules.

Also the differences between the old and new Rules are also apparent in their applicability. The 2010 Rules listed six points describing protected wetlands; the new Rules have done away with them, and instead state that wetlands are limited to and do not include wetlands under forest and coastal regulation zones. Under ‘Restrictions of activities in wetlands’, the new Rules say conservation and management would be “in accordance with the principle of ‘wise use’ as determined by the Wetlands Authority”. Environmentalists had criticised this principle when the draft Rules were circulated for comments and suggestions. http://indianexpress.com/article/explained/central-control-out-subjective-aspects-in-why-new-wetlands-rules-are-different-4876406/ (The Indian Express, 6 Oct. 2017)

In Dec. 2017, Neha Sinha also writes that the 2017 Wetland Rules have been criticised for doing away with strong wetland monitoring systems and omitting important wetland types. In the 2010 Rules, some related criteria were made explicit, such as natural beauty, ecological sensitivity, genetic diversity, historical value, etc. These have been omitted in the 2017 Rules.

Similarly, the restriction of activities on wetlands will be done as per the principle of ‘wise use’, determined by the State wetland authority. Whether wise use will include maintaining ecological character remains to be seen. Under the new Rules, no authority to issue directions, which are binding in nature to desist from any activity detrimental to wetland conservation, has been prescribed to State wetland authorities. http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/reconsider-the-rules/article22085813.ece (The Hindu, 21 Dec. 2017)

Professor Brij Gopal, who was involved in drafting the 2010 rules, said in the name of decentralisation, the latest notification has done away with all forms of accountability. Manoj Mishra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan said the new rules were in line with a clear approach taken by the govt that environmental protection was a “dispensable luxury”. http://www.moneycontrol.com/news/india/new-wetland-management-rules-a-complete-disaster-experts-2404039.html (Money Control, 3 Oct. 2017)

As per Pushp Jain Environment Resource and Response Centre (ERC), the 2010 rules proposed the setting up of a central wetland authority which has been replaced by a national wetlands committee without much teeth. He further said that the onus of identification and notification of wetlands has been passed on to states, which have virtually never acted on wetlands protection in the past.

Goa activists also appeared sceptical about political will to implement the revised set of rules. According to Abhijit Prabhudesai, most of the pristine wetlands are in a state of severe distress, as they have been reclaimed insensitively for bypasses and expansion of roads. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/goa/govt-not-interested-in-enforcing-wetland-rules/articleshow/60930886.cms (The Times of India, 28 Sept. 2017)

Under the 2010 rules, not a single water body was notified as a wetland over and above the ones already recognised as such by the Centre and the Ramsar Convention, defeating its purpose. http://www.zeebiz.com/agencies/centre-notifies-new-rules-for-preservation-of-wetlands-26312 (Zee Biz 1 Oct. 2017)

Similarly, despite country’s space agency ISRO had in 2011 mapped over two lakhs of wetlands across the country, the centre has, so far, notified only 115 wetlands and 63 lakes in 24 states and 2 UTs for conservation and management.

Centre, unfortunately under misguided push from SC, notifies new rules replacing the existing 2010 rules, removing almost all role of the centre, giving free rein to the states to do what they think is WISE.  http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/environment/flora-fauna/now-states-can-identify-and-manage-their-own-wetlands/articleshow/60863079.cms (The Times of India, 28 Sept. 2017)

OTHER RELEVANT DECISIONS BY CENTRAL GOVERNMENT

CWRA to get 3 years extension In Feb. 2017, MoEF&CC mulled to give Central Wetlands Regulatory Authority (CWRA) a three years extension. The environment ministry had already taken the decision in this regard and sought the law ministry’s opinion before going ahead with its notification. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/environment/the-good-earth/central-body-for-conservation-of-wetlands-to-get-extension-beyond-february-13/articleshow/57045464.cms (The Times of India, 3 Feb. 2017)

NBWL panel rejects move to shrink Kolleru Sanctuary In a welcome move, the working group constituted by the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), in Feb. 2017, rejected the “drastic reduction” in Kolleru Wildlife Sanctuary (KWLS) from Contour as per the State Assembly Resolution. Submitting its report to the NBWL recently, the team said that there should be “no compromise with the ecological balance (of the lake) by drastic reduction in sanctuary areas. The working group also recommended the removal from KWLS nearly 13,673 acres (5,533.3 ha) of private (ziroyati) lands located within its north-eastern boundary. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/aps-bid-to-reduce-sanctuary-size-rejected/article17337304.ece (The Hindu, 21 Feb. 2017)

STATE GOVERNMENTS DECISIONS

West Bengal  Govt proposed changes in EKW Bill In Feb. 2017, the EKW Bill was placed in the state assembly. Strangely the bill made, Sovan Chatterjee, the state environment minister as the chairperson of the East Kolkata Wetlands Management Authority (EKWMA). The environment minister also happens to be the state housing minister, the state fire services minister as well as the Kolkata city’s mayor. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/now-environment-minister-sovan-chatterjee-to-decide-fate-of-wetlands/articleshow/57137637.cms (The Times of India, 14 Feb. 2017)

Immediately after being appointed as chairman of EKWDA the environment minister proposed a review of the Ramsar site and argued in favour of “proper utilization” of the “barren” land in EKW. On assuming charge, he showed no let up in his plans and continued to argue against the curbs placed on EKW by the Ramsar Convention. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/sovan-chatterjee-new-wetlands-boss-talks-of-proper-use-of-protected-site/articleshow/57263722.cms (The Times of India, 21 Feb. 2017)

In March 2017, following the visit of Llewellyn Young a senior official of the Ramsar secretariat, the State Government decided to come up with a “wise use” plan on how to best manage the ecologically fragile EKW in the future. http://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ians/bengal-to-frame-wise-use-plan-for-east-kolkata-wetlands-117030400633_1.html (Business Standard, 4 March 2017)

Government approval was awaited on a proposal to set up a solar power harvesting centre on Dhapa, a part of the EKW. However, this proposal may run into hurdles as it involves change in land-use plan of the fragile EKW eco-system. The project also posed a threat on the livelihoods of thousands of vegetable growers depending on EKW. http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/kolkata-solar-project-under-shadow/article17532674.ece (The Hindu, 19 March 2017)

In May 2017, State Environment Minister and Mayor of Kolkata Sovan Chatterjee appeared to be keen on building a 6.5-km long flyover cutting through the heart of EKW, with 146 piers being planned in the ecologically fragile pocket. Chatterjee who is also the chairman of the EKWMA had reportedly held a meeting with senior state officials to discuss the hurdles faced by the plan. Before this, the minister had made a proposal to set up an amusement park at the Ramsar site. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/mayor-wants-flyover-through-wetlands/articleshow/58723538.cms (The Times of India, 18 May 2017)

Surprisingly, to take the flyover project forward, Sovan Chatterjee on World Environment Day, June 5, has said that a 25-cottah lake could be dug up in the adjoining areas of the same mouza, to compensate for the loss of 10-12 cottahs for the flyover project. https://housing.com/news/bengal-environment-minister-assures-alternate-lake-construction-flyover-project/ (Housing.Com, 6 June 2017)

Even Dec 2017, State proposed lifting building and land conversion restrictions in a section of the 12,500 ha of EKW. The proposal angered the environmentalists who felt that the move would kill the world’s largest organic sewage management system and choke Kolkata.  http://www.hindustantimes.com/kolkata/west-bengal-may-lift-building-limits-in-fragile-wetlands/story-8SHhaeNXHTPEsIOpKqlt9N.html (Hindustan Times, 13 Dec. 2017)

Maharashtra 507 wetlands identified by forest department The state forest department in Feb. 2017 identified 507 wetlands (369 in forest areas and 118 in non-forest areas) for taking up conservation and management in a holistic manner for wise use for the benefit of local community, conservation of biodiversity and usefulness to the society. Of the 507 wetlands, maximum are from Vidarbha including from Nagpur (35), Bhandara (88), Gondia (42), Gadchiroli (52), Chandrapur (41) and Yavatmal (21). These wetlands were identified in accordance with Wetlands Rules, 2010. These included, wetlands identified in forest area of 10 ha and above in size while those in non-forest area of 500 ha and beyond. However, State Govt has notified not a single Wetland site so far. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/507-wetlands-in-maha-named-as-ramsar-sites/articleshow/56987094.cms (The Times of India, 6 Feb. 2017)

In Aug. 2017, the members of the newly formed Wetland Grievance Redressal Committee in a recent meeting decided to deal with complaints linked to wetlands destruction within 48 hours. After the meeting, the committee also visited two wetlands sites in Seawoods and Ghansoli about which citizens had complained about debris dumping and mangroves destruction. In the absence of any dedicated helpline number, the citizens can email or text their grievances to the Konkan divisional commissionerate and the Thane district collectorate, from where it will be forwarded to the wetlands committee members. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/new-wetlands-committee-to-address-complaints-in-48-hours/articleshow/59945369.cms (The Times of India, 6 Aug. 2017)

In Nov. 2017, following the new guidelines issued by the Bombay HC appointed wetlands grievance redressal committee, destruction of wetlands on private land in the state will now attract a penalty. The govt would confiscate the land if the owners fail to pay this penalty. The guidelines were decided during the committee’s last two meetings. The panel also setup a website (https://www.konkanwetland.com/) to track complaints. http://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/cough-up-fines-for-wetland-destruction-or-pay-with-your-land-says-bombay-high-court-panel/story-aiyoDGbg4asE9Pvk0fhfvL.html (Hindustan Times, 2 Nov. 2017)

Haryana  Govt finally recognises Najafgarh lake as a water body After claiming there was no natural lake in the Najafgarh area, the Haryana government in Feb. 2017 took a U-turn and informed the NGT that it has accepted the lake as a water body. The re-designation would enable the governments of Haryana and Delhi to check construction and other activities in the dried up water body and restore its natural beauty. The government informed the NGT that the matter however has still to be approved by the competent authority of the state government and it was under process. The state government had earlier claimed that there was no natural lake in Najafgarh but only a “low-lying area” existed. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/haryana-recognises-najafgarh-lake-as-a-water-body-4540106/ (The Indian Express, 13 Feb. 2017)

Karnataka KLCDA declares 176 lakes in Bengaluru as wetlands In April, 2017 the process to protect city’s lakes from encroachment and misuse finally started when the Karnataka Lake Conservation and Development Authority (KLCDA) has sought for the declaration of 176 ‘live’ lakes in the city as ‘wetlands’. Once notified by the MoEF&CC, any changes in the land use of these lakes such as diversion of lake land for roads or layouts or any other purpose could only be done by through the approval of the Union government. Officials and activists hoped that the added protection on land would stop the continued ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ encroachment of lakes. What is the reason the dawn of this wisdom by KLCDA is not clear, but it is a welcome initiative. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-karnataka/klcda-seeks-declaration-of-176-live-lakes-in-bengaluru-as-wetlands/article18073636.ece (The Hindu, 17 April 2017)

Gujarat Govt finally forms 23-member wetlands panel In June 2017, after six years, the Gujarat govt  finally formed a 23-member state wetlands conservation authority, for conservation and management of the state’s wetlands. The committee was formed under the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules 2010. However, the steering committee is yet to be formed. The committee will be responsible for preparing an inventory of wetlands in the state. It will also identify and list particular wetlands to be regulated under the provisions of the rules. The committee will mainly lay emphasis on Nalsarovar, which was the only Ramsar site in Gujarat. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/gujarat-finally-forms-23-member-wetlands-panel/articleshow/58952579.cms (The Times of India, 2 June 2017)

The authority has not started working and remained only on paper. The report also revealed that not a single meeting of the high-powered committee of the authority, which is chaired by the state forests and environment minister, Ganpat Vasava, has been held so far. The authority is mandated with implementing the Wetlands Rules but nothing has progressed since its formation. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/gujarat-wetlands-authority-exists-only-on-paper/articleshow/62515336.cms (The Times of India, 16 Jan. 2018)

Manipur CM calls for review of Loktak project, removal of Ithai barrage In most important development, in August 2017 Chief Minister (CM) Nongthombam Biren Singh urged Prime Minister (PM) Narendar Modi to review the Loktak Project as a permanent solution for frequent floods in the State. The Ithai barrage has become the main cause of flood in the State and in needs to be removed. It further says that Loktak project was taken up long before only to get some power but now the State is having sufficient power resources from others. Damages done by the flood is giving more loss to the State. http://kanglaonline.com/2017/08/cm-biren-calls-for-review-of-loktak-project-removal-of-ithai-barrage-ne-floods-pm-announces-rs-2000-crore-relief/ (Kangla Online, 2 Aug. 2017)

In Sept. 2017, Manipur governor Najma A. Heptulla said that she was trying hard for removal of the Ithai barrage as it was polluting and choking Loktak. She had reportedly met the Environment Ministry on the issue. The EPAO report further quotes here saying that she further said that the Centre and the State Govt are considering the removal of Ithai Barrage. https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170921/jsp/northeast/story_174214.jsp (The Telegraph, 20 Sept. 2017)

Tamil Nadu Govt notifies wetlands protection committee In Oct. 2017, the state govt has notified committees for the protection of the wetlands. This seems largely following the SC directions, but unless the committees have at least 50% of the members, credible independent non govt persons, there is little hope for improvement. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-tamilnadu/govt-notifies-committees-for-protection-of-wetlands/article19892946.ece (The Hindu, 21 Oct. 2017)

Compiled by Bhim Singh Rawat (bhim.sandrp@gmail.com)

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