Wetlands

World Wetlands Day 2020: Positive Stories from India

On February 2, the World Wetlands Day is celebrated globally. The theme of 2020 is Wetlands and Biodiversity to emphasize the critical roles the wetlands plays for wildlife, aquatic life, and native vegetation. They also play crucial role in harvesting rainwater, recharging groundwater, providing livelihoods, acting as carbon sinks and providing cushion against flash floods thus they hold immense significance in changing climate.

This compilation puts together some of the positive developments related to wetlands that took place in 2019. It also includes few individual initiatives of lakes and water bodies cleaning from greater Noida, Chennai and Udaipur. There have been some fruitful efforts by citizen and community groups in Maharashtra, Goa and Kerala.

Also, the government in few states like Punjab, Uttar Pradesh have taken some important decisions in declaring new wetlands as protected areas. The states of Uttarakhand, Delhi, Rajasthan, Telangana have also set up State Wetlands Authorities. Meanwhile, there are wetlands committee in some states like Maharashtra and Delhi doing impressive work in restoring the damages being done to wetlands.

The region wise compilation also highlights significant development at national level and key decisions by central government regarding wetlands conservation. There are briefs of important intervention by judiciary including Supreme Court, High Courts, National Green Tribunal for revival of wetlands like the Sukhna lake in Chandigarh, Chilika in Odisha, Deepor Beel in Assam, mangroves in Kachchh, lakes in Bengaluru and Hyderabad.

NORTH INDIA

JAMMU & KASHMIR

Demarcation of Hokersar wetland The Srinagar administration in July 2019 began the process of peripheral demarcation of Hokersar wetland area falling within jurisdiction of Srinagar district after completing demarcation of the Khushalsar Lake and mapping of its encroachments. The demarcation of boundaries also included geo-tagging to enable easier access to location-specific information about the wetland areas. Meanwhile, the district administration banned dumping of solid waste in and up to 500 meters from the Hokersar. https://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/srinagar/admin-starts-demarcation-of-hokersar-wetland-in-srinagar/  (21 July 2019)

UTTARAKHAND

Committees for wetlands conservation The state forest department  in June 2019, ordered officials to set up two committees: a technical and grievance redressal committee for the wetlands. While the technical committee would focus on the environmental and technical aspects, the grievance committee would resolve the issues raised by locals. The officials of these committees would be assisted by sub-committees in each district headed by the district magistrate. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/ukhand-to-set-up-committees-to-conserve-wetlands/articleshow/69948976.cms  (26 June 2019)  

PUNJAB

Kanjli wetland as Kali Bein Conservation Reserve The government in February 2019 decided to declare Kanjli wetland as Kali Bein Conservation Reserve for protection of the many flora and fauna species which are facing survival battle in this habitat. Kali Bein feeds the Kanjli wetland which once used to be the habitat of ghariyal, critically endangered species. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chandigarh/punjab-cm-approves-kanjli-wetland-as-kali-bein-conservation-reserve/articleshow/68037235.cms (17 Feb. 2019)

In the same month, the government also decided to declare 50 acre of land at Shalla Pattan wetlands as protected area for critically endangered species common crane. The state government was to compensate farmers to keep their crops fallow for the winter months to restore the natural ecosystem of the wetland. This marshland or swamp area of floodplain of river Beas also provided conducive atmosphere for waterfowls. (17 Feb. 2019) https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chandigarh/punjab-govt-to-declare-shalla-pattan-wetlands-protected-area-for-conservation-of-common-crane/articleshow/68037283.cms

In April 2019, the Keshopur wetland in Gurdaspur was found having potential of Ramsar site. The Keshopur wetland is also known as Keshopur-Miani Community Reserve or ‘Chhamb’ in local dialect[i]. It is one of the Asia’s biggest wetlands, located in the middle of the Ravi and Beas rivers. There are experts who believe that the area which earlier must have been a flood plain of the two rivers before barrages and dams were erected over it, is now fed by rain and groundwater.

The 850-acre-marsh was declared as country’s first notified community reserve following a state government notification on June 25 2007.  This has now resulted into the joint management of the wetland by forest department and the locals of five villages namely Keshopur, Mattam, Miani, Maghar Mudhian, and Dala who share ownership of the site. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chandigarh/keshopur-wetland-likely-to-be-the-fourth-ramsar-site-in-punjab/articleshow/69074355.cms  (27 April 2019)

In October 2019, four more wetlands were proposed for Ramsar lists including 185 km stretch of the Beas conservation reserve, Ranjit Sagar conservation reserve, Nangal wildlife sanctuary, Keshopur-Miani community reserve and Hussainiwala wetland. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chandigarh/5-more-wetlands-in-punjab-to-get-international-tag/articleshow/71471062.cms  (7 Oct. 2019)

According to latest report, three more wetlands in Punjab have been declared as Ramsar sites by the Ramsar Bureau, Switzerland. A total of 10 new sites from India have been given the Ramsar tag, of which three are in Punjab, taking the total number of such sites to six in the state. Of three new Ramsar wetlands, Keshopur-Miani community reserve in Gurdaspur is spread over an area 343.9 ha and is natural. On the other hand, 185-km stretch of the Beas conservation reserve (upstream of barrage), & Nangal wildlife sanctuary spread in an area of 116 ha in Ropar, are man-made.  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chandigarh/three-more-punjab-wetlands-get-ramsar-site-tag/articleshow/73676841.cms  (28 Jan. 2020)

The Nangal, which was declared as a wildlife sanctuary in 2003, attracts 8,000 to 15,000 migratory birds every year of 134 species and 25 species of fish are found here.  https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2020/jan/28/beas-river-in-punjab-among-three-wetlands-picked-as-ramsar-sites-2095323.html  (28 Jan. 2020)

CHANDIGARH

Wetland conservation training for teachers The teachers from 75 schools and colleges in February 2019 were trained in a workshop on the theme of water and wetland conservation. The topic of urbanization figured prominently in the programme, for it’s one of the main threats to the wetlands in the urban areas. And with urbanisation rate set to increase from current 30% to 50% in the next decade, it was highlighted that a legal framework to protect these wetlands and their catchments are urgently needed. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chandigarh/wetland-conservation-training-for-teachers/articleshow/68141655.cms (24 Feb. 2019)

In a major development in July 2019, the Union Territory (UT) Administration decided to declare Sukhna Lake, comprising 565 acres, a wetland under the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017, and the catchment area falling within its jurisdiction a “zone of influence”. With this decision, all construction activities in the wetland area falling in Punjab and the UT were to be regulated by the respective governments. The proposal was approved during the second meeting of the UT of Chandigarh Wetlands Authority on July 24, 2019.  https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/chandigarh/finally-admn-nod-to-sukhna-as-wetland/806688.html  (24 July 2019) 

In October 2019, the law department of UT cleared declaration of the Sukhna as a wetland, the move was reported to remove encroachments, industrial units, dumping, permanent structures, and discharge of untreated effluents within 50 metres of the lake. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chandigarh/chandigarh-law-department-clears-sukhna-as-wetland/articleshow/71462729.cms  (6 Oct. 2019)

The Supreme Court (SC) in November 2019 ruled out construction of Rs 1,800-crore Tata Camelot Housing Project, finding it within the catchment area of Sukhna Lake. Reading out the operative part of the judgment, apex court added that the state administration had violated the public trust doctrine. TATA Camelot was to have 92,100 flats in 19 towers, ranging between 12 and 35 storeys and was slated to be raised on 53.39 acres of land near the Chandigarh Capitol Complex. https://www.news18.com/news/india/supreme-court-says-no-to-tata-housing-project-near-sukhna-lake-in-chandigarh-2374121.html  (5 Nov. 2019)

The Punjab and Haryana High Court (HC) made it clear that any construction on the Sukhna wetland area would be considered unauthorised. During the hearing, the UT Administration told the court that the UT, in 1988, had declared a 2.7-km area from Sukhna Lake’s boundary a wetland. The Bench was also told that the Centre, too, in 2017, had declared the area an eco-sensitive zone. As such, no construction activity was permissible in the area. Punjab, on the other hand, submitted that some area of the wetland was included in its master plan. However, the argument failed to find favour with the Bench. https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/chandigarh/construction-on-sukhna-wetland-illegal-court/866202.html  (26 Nov. 2019)

DELHI

Restoration of lakes Delhi Jal Board (DJB) in April 2019, finalised three different revival models for the restoration of 155 water bodies in consultation with the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI). https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/what-the-new-city-of-lakes-will-look-like-three-ways-to-bring-them-back-to-life/articleshow/69087849.cms   (29 April 2019)

The government also set up a State Wetlands Authority (SWA) to notify and conserve natural water bodies in Delhi. The authority was asked to start restoration of the Tikri Khurd lake in Narela. The 23-member authority set up in April 2019 was to function under the environment department. In its first meeting on April 25, the authority had asked the DDA, to remove encroachments around the lake and submit a conservation plan. (17 May 2019) https://www.hindustantimes.com/delhi-news/new-wetland-restoration-authority-will-get-cracking-with-narela-s-tikri-khurd-lake/story-8DDkhOC85bMrfXMRiJsD9K.html 

In June 2019, the DJB planned to turn the abandoned fly ash pond behind Rajghat into a lake, spread over 40 acres in the next three years. This was the sixth artificial lake that the Delhi government had planned to come up with after the ones that has proposed at Timarpur, Rohini, Nilothi, Dwarka and Najafgarh. https://www.hindustantimes.com/delhi-news/jal-board-to-turn-abandoned-rajghat-fly-ash-pond-into-40-acre-lake-in-three-years/story-6XnvBhsj0qwYiSW5V8nz4K.html  (1 June 2019)

As per a report, the DJB had been successful in cleaning and partially reviving the a pond Rajokri under a pilot project.  The water body was filled with sewage from an unauthorised colony adjacent to it. The DJB cleaned it up, put in a sewage treatment plant (STP), constructed a wetland and landscaped the area. https://www.civilsocietyonline.com/interviews/we-will-bring-water-bodies-back/

In Nov 2019, the DJB cleared the second phase of the Rs 34 crores lake development project, as part of which the dry Timarpur pond was to be revived. The plan included development of a biodiversity park. Out of the 45 acres area earmarked for the project, 38 acres was allocated for developing the wetland & Biodiversity Park. A wetland-based STP was proposed on the remaining seven acres. https://www.newindianexpress.com/thesundaystandard/2019/nov/17/delhi-jal-board-nod-to-revival-of-timarpur-pond-2062826.html  (17 Nov. 2019)

UTTAR PRADESH

Govt to preserve 1.23 lakh wetlands As per February 2019 report, the SWA had identified 1.23 lakh wetlands across the state for conservation and protection. Of the 1.23 lakh wetlands, 26,000 water bodies were spread over 2.5 hectares each & 97,000 has area smaller than that.

The order to preserve and protect wetlands was issued by principal secretary, forest, Kalpana Awasthi and SWA chief executive officer (CEO) Vibhash Ranjan during a video conferencing with senior forest officials on February 13. As per the officer the plan was primarily aimed at increasing the fast depleting groundwater in almost every part of UP.

The government also entrusted forest officials with the task to file a 25-point comprehensive field report on the status of the identified wetlands and their supporting features for further action. In the first phase, SWA decided to focus primarily on wetlands stretched over 2.5 ha in 10 districts, six in the Ganga basin and four in eastern part of state. As per Field director, Pilibhit tiger reserve, H Rajamohan SWA had identified a total of 303 wetlands spread over 2.5 ha or above in Pilibhit district through satellite imagining and remote sensing. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bareilly/up-to-preserve-1-23-lakh-wetlands-to-replenish-fast-depleting-groundwater/articleshow/67999107.cms (14 Feb. 2019)

In another significant decision on World Water Day, the SWA decided to ban the cultivation of summer paddy that survived only on the groundwater. According to an estimate of the state agriculture department, summer paddy was produced in around 3.5 lakh ha in more than 20 districts of western UP stretched up to the Tarai region.

As per the Vibhash Ranjan CEO of SWA who was also chief conservator of forest (CCF) of Gorakhpur forest zone, the protection and conservation wetlands, a project undertaken by SWA to recharge groundwater, could not succeed unless there was a ban on summer paddy. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bareilly/wetland-authority-to-ban-summer-paddy-cultivation-to-save-groundwater/articleshowprint/68569392.cms (26 March 2019)

A report in April 2019 highlighted the work of Ramveer Tanwar, in saving ponds in Greater Noida (Gautam Buddh Nagar) district, with hundreds of water bodies. While the bigger ones, like the 60-acre Surajpur wetland[ii], had protection by forest conservation rules, but smaller ponds were neglected.

He noticed how small water bodies, around which community life traditionally revolved in the rural hinterland, were often treated as garbage dumps. He organised a jal chaupal of villagers to discuss the need for cleaning up the ponds. A team of volunteers was set up to create “a sense of ownership over the project”. The first pond clean up was taken up by the volunteers in 2014 was in a village called Dabra. So far, he has been instrumental in reviving 10 village ponds in the last five years. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/noida/26-year-old-engineer-helps-bring-10-ponds-back-to-life-in-greater-noida/articleshow/68758989.cms   (7 April 2019)

Host of wetland birds, including the threatened black-headed ibis, were sighted in an area being revived and restored by the Noida Authority in Sector 91. The sector 91 area was also being developed as a 144-acre green lung of Noida, including a 75-acre bio-diversity park, 25-acre medicinal park, 32-acre green belt and a 12-acre natural wetland. http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/delhi/2019/may/30/restoration-of-wetland-prompts-return-of-endangered-fowls-1983686.html  (30 May 2019)

In June 2019, the Noida Administration started to restore 5000 square meter wetlands in Sector 85. As per the General Manager (GM) of Authority the wetland was being cleaned and would be restored with vegetation, grass and plants. The authority had promised an eco-hub with herbal, medicinal and Biodiversity Park, along with the animal bridge and wetland restoration in Sector 91. The GM also said that that they would restore all possible wetlands and wetland patches in the city.

After taking up the cause of reviving the 1.8-ha pond in Sector 91, Noida Authority had also begun work to restore the entire 12-acre wetland, which is adjacent to Sector 137 metro station. While the restoration of these wetlands was being taken up on ecological lines, the work entailed widening of channels, planting grass, and flora and fauna, etc.  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/noida/noida-starts-work-to-restore-5000-sqm-wetland-in-sec-85/articleshow/69717871.cms  (10 June 2019)

In June 2019 the forest department proposed the Dhanauri wetlands in Greater Noida for Ramsar tag. The proposal is to be submitted through the Ramsar portal.  In May, the Union Environment Ministry’s National River Conservation Directorate (NRCD) had written to the principal secretary of the state forest department for the same. Surprisingly while the wetlands was spread over 100 ha in govt record, the forest department had notified only 25 ha as protected area citing land to be costly and having high value for the real estate.  https://www.hindustantimes.com/delhi-news/india-backs-dhanauri-for-international-wetland-tag/story-N02MMQgb5ambbRmybjZHkO.html  (6 June 2019)

The move was taken; five years after Noida-based birder Anand Arya initiated legal battle seeking protection for Dhanauri and a year after district forest department first sent its proposal to declare the water body as a wetland under Wetland Rules-2017. https://www.hindustantimes.com/noida/dhanauri-a-step-closer-to-getting-ramsar-wetland-tag-as-forest-dept-writes-to-centre/story-pl02kGiP3VC3DsItHU2cWL.html  (25 Dec. 2019)

According to latest report, five of the wetlands in the state have been selected as Ramsar sites. These include Nawabganj bird sanctuary, Parvati Arga bird sanctuary, Saman bird sanctuary, Sarsai Nawar lake, Samaspur bird sanctuary and Sandi bird sanctuary. In total the state has six Ramsar sites.  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/10-more-indian-wetlands-get-global-importance-tag/articleshow/73716083.cms  (29 Jan. 2020)

EAST AND NORTH EAST INDIA

ASSAM

NGT seeks eco-sensitive zone tag for wetland Deepor Beel The National Green Tribunal in August 2019 directed the state government to declare the area around Deepor Beel[iii] a major wetland on the western edge of Guwahati an Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ) which entailed declaring up to 10 km around a protected area a buffer zone and restricting industrial and other human activities. The wetland is already an ‘Important Bird Area’ (IBA) and a Ramsar Site, with a reserve forest nearby.

The green court in August 19, 2019 order also directed the government to remove existing encroachment on the wetland, to take steps to prohibit any further encroachment and manage a municipal solid waste dumping ground inside Deepor Beel’s system. The order, based on a petition by environment activist Rohit Choudhury, also sought an end to the “land utilisation character for a rail track alignment through three elephant corridors – Segunbari, Mikirpara and Matia”. The track runs between the southern edge of Deepor Beel and the reserve forest. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/national-green-tribunal-seeks-eco-sensitive-zone-tag-for-assam-wetland-deepor-beel/article29226299.ece  (23 Aug. 2019)

ODISHA

HC asks govt to start demolishing illegal prawn gheries in wetlands The state HC in January 2019 directed the government to start the demolition process of illegal prawn farms in Bhitarkanika National Park and the Chilika Lake under the supervision of the committee formed for the purpose.

While issuing the direction on January 21, the court had set March 18 as the date for taking stock of the work. It also directed the government to lodge criminal proceedings against the offenders. The order was passed following SC April 3, 2017 decision asking the chief justice of high courts in 15 states to take up the issue of conservation of ecology of important wetlands.

In pursuance of this, the HC had taken up the issue by suo motu registering a PIL in September 2017 for restoration of the ecology of the two wetlands – Bhitarkanika in Kendrapada district and the Chilika Lake, encompassing areas in Puri, Ganjam and Khurda districts.

Subsequently, it had appointed Mohit Agarwal as amicus curiae to assist it. As part of the adjudication process, the amicus curiae filed a report raising six issues to be considered by the court for preservation of the two wetlands which included illegal prawn culture, pollution, uncontrolled boat operation and oil spills, siltation, depletion of mangrove forest in Bhitarkanika and prawn culture and poaching. According to the amicus curiae’s report, ‘in total, 23,000 acres were under illegal prawn culture’ in Bhitarkanika and Chilika Lakes. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bhubaneswar/hc-asks-govt-to-start-demolishing-illegal-prawn-gheries-in-wetlands/articleshow/67647062.cms (23 Jan. 2019)

Further the HC on December 2, 2019 set December 10, 2019 as deadline for the state government to file an affidavit indicating the steps taken so far to ensure protection of Chilika Lake and Bhitarkanika National Park while observing that the progress made by the high-level committee constituted on its order issued on January 21. https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2019/dec/03/december-10-date-for-government-over-protection-of-wetland-2070707.html  (3 Dec. 2019)

WEST BENGAL

Ramsar tag makes Indian Sunderbans largest protected wetland in the country The Ramsar convention meeting in Geneva on February 1, 2019, gave the Ramsar tag to the Indian side of the Sunderbans making it the largest protected wetland in the country. Home to the royal Bengal tiger, this is the second Ramsar site in Bengal after the East Kolkata Wetlands (EKW)[iv] which was given the Ramsar tag in 2002.

The Bangladesh part of the Sunderbans had received the Ramsar tag way back in 1992. Together, both sides of the wetlands spread over an area of over 10,000 sq km rivals the famed Congo River basin and the Amazon estuary as one of the largest trans-boundary wetlands in the world. (3 Feb. 2019) https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/ramsar-tag-makes-indian-sunderbans-largest-protected-wetland-in-country/articleshow/67813084.cms

On EKW issue, after intervention of state secretariat, the Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation (HIDCO) was learnt engaging a consulting agency to prepare an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report and an Environment Management Plan (EMP) to minimise the impact of proposed flyover on the wetland.

According to officials, the new EIA and EMP reports would be considered as additional and supplement those prepared by Jadavpur University’s School of Water Resources Engineering earlier. The consulting agency, which will be engaged by the first week of August 2019, will prepare & submit the reports in 2 months. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/new-green-study-ordered-for-flyover-via-wetlands/articleshow/70311590.cms  (21 July 2019)

In the latest development, following NGT order, the city administration has started demolishing illegal structure aroun the EKW. Such drive is taking place after January 2012.  Bonani Kakkar of the environment action group, Public, said the drive needed to be systematic and sustained to undo the encroachment that threatened the character of EKW. Kakkar’s PIL at Calcutta HC in 1992 had led to the formal regulations for protection of EKW and its ultimate listing as a Ramsar site in 2002.

Legal activist Subhas Datta, whose petition before the NGT had led to the setting up of a task force under the chairmanship of state chief secretary to implement the law, too called for a continued action. Till now, 357 FIRs have been filed against encroachment on EKW. Total number of encroachments on the sprawling wetlands has been pegged at over 25,000.   https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/kolkata-civic-body-starts-razing-illegal-buildings-on-wetlands/articleshow/73068556.cms  (2 Jan. 2020) 

WEST INDIA

RAJASTHAN

Environment minister to head wetland body After the incident of mass bird death at Sambhar Salt Lake, the government decided to form the SWA to be chaired by state environment minister. It would also include chief secretary, additional chief secretary (ACS), urban development and housing (UDH) secretary, Additional Chief Secretary (revenue) and principal secretary (tourism), principal secretary (local self-government) and senior officials and experts from 12 departments.

As per the report, one expert each in the field of wetland ecology, hydrology, fisheries, landscape planning and socio-economics would be nominated by the state government in the SWA. It was on April 10, 2018, when the environment department, had issued orders to constitute the SWA. The Sambhar Lake and Keoladeo Ghana National Park are the Ramsar sites in the state. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/jaipur/environment-min-to-head-wetland-body/articleshow/72203953.cms  (24 Nov. 2019) 

There is also a interesting story of Hazi Sardar Mohammad, the 73 years old man who has been cleaning the lakes in Udaipur for the last 14 years. https://hindi.thebetterindia.com/21301/jheel-hiteshi-nagarik-manch-udaipur-hazi-sardar-mohammad/  (Nov. 2019)

GUJARAT

NGT comes to the aid of Kharai camels and mangroves in Kachchh In an important decision to protect the mangroves in Kachchh, providing habitat of the indigenous Kharai camels, the NGT directed the authorities for ensuring a free and continuous flow of estuarine water in the creeks.

In India, Kharai camels, also known as swimming camels, are only found in Gujarat. Of the estimated 4,500 Kharai camels, about 40 percent are found in Kachchh. During the hearing, it was found that around 750 acres of mangroves were destroyed and removed in the region. The NGT also asked the authorities to find those responsible and levy environmental compensation on them for the restoration of damaged mangroves. https://india.mongabay.com/2019/09/ngt-comes-to-the-aid-of-kharai-camels-and-mangroves-in-kachchh/  (19 Sept. 2019)

MAHARASHTRA

Sindhudurg shows the way for wetlands documentation and protection Sindhudurg has become the country’s first district to have successfully documented and mapped wetlands, following a Mumbai HC order in Vanashakti petition. Engaging community participation in the process, the district was training civic bodies of other districts in the state to replicate its documentation model. This was the state response to Mumbai HC as a pilot in Sindhudurg. The district administration approached the team of local organization Syamantak, which suggested engaging community participation in the documentation and mapping process.

“Conducting mapping through community is an effective way to save public money. If this model is implemented across the state, the government can save crores,” said Sachin Desai, who is running Syamantak’s study centre for experiential learning in Dhamapur. The committee completed the task of mapping 57 wetlands in the district in about eight months. It would be soon releasing the first volume of magazine ‘Sindhudurg — Land of Wetland’, the first-of-it-kind in the country with the financial support of district planning and development council (DPDC) through the forest department.

Key findings of wetland documentation: 485 species of flora, 154 bird species, 39 butterfly and 21 odonate species were reported in 57 wetland sites in Sindhudurg. Similarly, 9 threatened bird species were reported in Dhamapur lake and 3 nearly threatened, 1 vulnerable and 1 critically endangered bird species were reported at Pendur lake. The exercise also found a total 129 violations in the 57 wetland sites of Sindhudurg.   https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/nagpur/sindhudurg-training-state-bodies-to-document-wetlands/articleshow/69032554.cms (25 April 2019)

Around the same time, the experts in Pune also appealed to save the wetlands in the district. As per the report there are 76 inland wetlands in Pune district and environmentalists felt that conservation efforts need a boost. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/pune/wetland-conservation-key-to-thriving-biodiversity-experts/articleshow/69049243.cms (26 April 2019)

Also in May 2019, the environmental groups, in conjunction with the local administration, embarked on a unique initiative to rejuvenate ancient water sources of the famed pilgrim town of Alandi, 28 km from Pune. The project aimed at rejuvenating 52 puratan kundas or ancient water reservoirs located around Alandi which is the birthplace of Dnyaneshwar, the 13th Century saint, poet and philosopher and one of the pivotal figures of the Bhakti movement in medieval India. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/rejuvenating-ancient-sources-to-combat-water-scarcity/article27153864.ece  (17 May 2019)

In May 2018, the state government announced the creation of the Thane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary on 1,690.5 ha. Additionally, the government proposed to create a 34 sq km buffer zone around the sanctuary. Despite its status as a protected sanctuary, the creek is threatened by pollution and encroachments. Research by Ryerson University, Toronto had reported that a third of the mangrove forests in the Mumbai Metropolitan Area has been lost to urbanisation since the 1970s. https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/thane-creek-wetlands-need-to-be-saved/story-TjSgkOi6JCBulmoG6twZnO.html  (2 June 2019)  

The state committee appointed by the Bombay HC to protect wetland and mangroves, on Aug 8, recognised Bhendkhal as wetland and directed Raigad district administration and City Industrial Development Corporation Ltd (CIDCO)  to remove debris from the site. However, the panel said that despite Panje possessing characteristics of a wetland, cannot be considered a wetland because the area was not designated as such in the National Wetland Atlas (NWA), 2011. https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/panje-not-a-wetland-says-maharashtra-mangrove-committee/story-RWGxpZm6JyaV4dboNTHc2M.html  (8 Aug. 2019)

Rejecting the claims, two environmentalists on August 15 shared with committee, the unverified coordinates and codes of areas across the 213-ha Panje area, overlapping with the zones identified in the NWA 2011. https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/activists-claim-panje-is-wetland-share-proof/story-7tNAD7TmtwJcztg0gAzhUK.html  (9 Aug. 2019)

During Sept 20, 2019 meeting, the committee directed the CIDCO to protect Panje area in Navi Mumbai from development, even if they were not officially recognised. Other members of the committee said directions issued are only advisory because committee did not have mandate to notify the wetlands and only government could do that.

Spread across 213 ha core or foraging area and 157 ha buffer area for a migratory bird roosting zone, Panje is home to around 50,000 birds (migratory and resident) during winter. The state wildlife board had decided to declare the area a bird sanctuary in 2015, but the notification was never published. https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/protect-panje-even-if-it-is-not-a-wetland-state-panel-to-cidco/story-HKNSf3tpNjjngD1xW5vaJL.html  (22 Sept. 2019)

On Nov 2, 2019, the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) in an affidavit told the HC that Panje and Karanje wetlands in Uran, Navi Mumbai were safeguarded as Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) I, which was the highest protection under the CRZ notification. As per the plea, both fishing areas had witnessed an 85% drop in catch adding the 233-ha area had been given away for the Navi Mumbai Special Economic Zone (NMSEZ) to private companies. https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/panje-karanje-wetlands-protected-as-crz-i/story-sF9dA141SY55NB5anvit5M.html  (4 Nov. 2019)

At an International Conference on Wetlands and Migratory Waterbirds of the Central Asian Flyways (CAF) in Lonavala, the forest department disclosed that  the 800-ha Nandur Madhyameshwar in Nephad tehsil, Nashik and 366-ha wetland site, Lonar Crater Lake in Buldhana homing 109 bird species were proposed for the Ramsar site.

The Nandur Madhyameshwar wetland was proposed for Ramsar tag in August 2012 also. Mentioning of the threats to the Nandur wetlands, the forest officials pointed out that the Nasik Municipal Corp and irrigation department were releasing excess water and chemical effluents in the wetland zone.  https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/nashik-wetland-may-become-the-state-s-first-ramsar-site/story-2IKFYQ2yUFVbKmAbetGtrJ.html  (21 Nov. 2019)

In Dec 2019, the Raigad district administration disclosed that 20 villages in Uran, Navi Mumbai, were flooded during monsoon, affecting 1,236 families, as a result of mangrove and wetland destruction. It was the first time that the administration had released this information in response to an RTI query. The administration had also said that floods of such magnitude had never been witnessed in Uran. https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/mangrove-destruction-led-to-flooding-at-20-uran-villages/story-H2kD3DmCWxlFqrd5foJ1vM.html  (8 Dec. 2019)

Before this, in July 2019 a report by environment group Vanashakti had pointed out that reclamation of wetlands in Navi Mumbai the size of 1,740 football fields over the past 11 years, was one of the main reasons for flooding in the area in July 2019. This happened despite a 2014 Bombay HC order banning reclamation and construction on wetlands. The Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules 2017 by Central government had excluded wetlands of coastal areas rendering less protection to them. The state government also stopped demarcating coastal wetlands, paving the way for their reclamation and destruction. https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/did-wetland-destruction-cause-the-floods-in-navi-mumbai/story-uW6ulUaCh83xTceDTcJXgO.html  (20 July 2019)

The Konkan Wetland Grievance Redressal Committee in Dec 2019 directed Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL), a promoter of Navi Mumbai Special Economic Zone (NMSEZ) along with CIDCO to not undertake any construction on Bhendkhal wetland, in the coastal region of Uran. The committee also ordered CIDCO to protect the wetland and mangroves at Panje.

In May 2019, environmentalists had filed a complaint with the committee, saying work on the NMSEZ was destroying wetlands and mangroves. Noting that Bhendkhal was a designated wetland, the committee instructed the Raigad District collector and CIDCO to keep the area free of developmental activity and restore it to its original condition.

This was the first time an official body has named RIL in a case relating to destruction of wetlands and mangroves. The NMSEZ is envisioned to be spread over 2,240 ha. RIL Chairman Mukesh Ambani is a co-promoter of the project along with Jai Corp, SKIL Infrastructure and CIDCO. The project was first proposed over a decade ago. Recently CIDCO allowed it to be converted from an SEZ to an integrated industrial township.  https://mumbaimirror.indiatimes.com/mumbai/other/navi-mumbai-sez-committee-stops-all-work-on-wetland/articleshow/72910283.cms  (21 Dec. 2019)

The state regulator also ordered removal of debris from the creek area, which was earlier a part of NMSEZ plan and ordered CIDCO to protect the wetland and mangroves at Panje where there was a landfill.

Welcoming the positive steps, activist B N Kumar, director of NGO NatConnect Foundation stated that RIL had signed an MoU with NMSEZ to develop 1600 ha in Uran. Following that, there was a flurry of activities of destruction of mangroves and wetlands by dumping debris at Pagote, Bhendkhal & Panje. CIDCO had leased out part of Panje wetland to NMSEZ in which it has 26% share. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/greens-celebrate-as-bhendkal-wetland-in-uran-gets-protection/articleshow/72929381.cms  (22 Dec 2019)

Similarly, after persistent complaints from local residents and environmentalists, the Uran municipal council decided to shut down the 13 years old garbage dump created on mangrove forests in Uran, Navi Mumbai. https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/uran-dumping-ground-will-be-shut-to-protect-wetlands/story-BY4j83aiIPOYGdWH2Bq9CJ.html  (3 Jan 2020)

In another major development, the Bombay HC on January 15, 2020, rebuked the district commissioners and collectors, for failing to submit brief documents for the state’s wetlands for the last 8 years. It gave the state an ultimatum to publish the list on the ministry website by Jan 29 2020, which was set as next date for the hearing. The HC asked the administration to make document incorporating the characteristic features for each site, the location, expanse, threats, and action plan to preserve the area under the Wetland Rules 2017.

So far, the state has prepared brief documents for six districts along the Konkan coast: Mumbai, Raigad, Palghar, Thane, Ratnagiri, and Sindhudurg. The brief documents for all other remaining districts are currently pending.

Surprisingly, the environment department in an affidavit said that three districts Nagpur, Parbhani and Nandurbar have no wetlands as an excuse for no brief document. The submission was contradicted by petitioners Vanashakti by presenting details from the NWA revealing that Nandurbar had 735 wetlands, Nagpur 1,054, and Parbhani 276 wetlands. As per the NWA Maharashtra has 46,460 wetlands. https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/prepare-final-list-of-wetlands-within-2-weeks-hc-to-state/story-ZIBfytmjMyUMYcl8Te4dQO.html  (16 Jan. 2020)

As per latest report, the Bombay HC on Jan. 27 has pulled up the state government yet again for allegedly “lying” on oath regarding the number of wetlands in Parbhani, Nagpur and Nandurbar districts. The court also summoned the collectors from these districts next week to explain their change in stand. https://mumbaimirror.indiatimes.com/mumbai/other/hc-summons-three-district-collectors-over-error-in-the-number-of-wetlands/articleshow/73752352.cms  (30 Jan. 2020)

Further, the state wetland and mangrove panel has directed the CIDCO to clear within 15 days waste dumped illegally on Bhendkhal wetland, which falls in Uran’s eco-sensitive area. The committee in its December 9 meeting had taken note of the complaints on the alleged destruction of 150 acres of the 160-acre wetland under NMSEZ and directed CIDCO and Raigad district collector to remove the debris and soil dumped at the site within a month. However no action was initiated by CIDCO authority throughout January. A second deadline to clear the area was issued to CIDCO at the committee’s 10th meeting on January 30. https://indianexpress.com/article/india/remove-debris-from-bhendkhal-wetlands-in-15-days-panel-to-cidco-6245350/  (1 Feb. 2020)

GOA

Locals demand to declare Bondvoll lake as wetland At a special hearing on June 12, 2019 attended by SWA, over 350 villagers of Santa Cruz unanimously reiterated their demand to declare Bondvoll lake a wetland. The villagers also asked for a buffer zone to be set up around the lake so that no developmental activities come up in this region, protecting the water body from contamination and other such threats.

Access to Bondvoll lake was restricted for villagers in recent years by a private property owner. Residents said that the lake was the village heritage and was declared a public utility project by the then Governor General of Goa in 1908.

Reacting on this, Pradeep Sarmokadam of SWA said that authority would seek online suggestions and objections to villagers’ demand. The villagers also asked to make the suggestions public by displaying them on the church and panchayat notice board so that they could get to know of objections and counter them. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/goa/declare-bondvoll-lake-as-wetland-reiterate-locals/articleshow/69763580.cms  (13 June 2019)

The first ever such consultation, called by the SWA, was a hard-fought victory by villagers of Santa Cruz, in Panjim. For the past decade, the people of Santa Cruz had tried every avenue to save their villages’ crowning glory, Bondvol Lake, a 110-year-old natural reservoir that collects rain and spring water over a 9.365-ha.

Citizens have been actively pursuing their demand. They have held bike rallies, public meetings, mobilised special gram sabhas, taken awareness treks for school children, filed complaints, accompanied flying squads, photographed and videographed violations and dug into historical archive material to back their court petitions as well as lobbied with panchayat, politicians and state government offices.

Since 2009, construction firms and land grabbers had stealthily damaged the lake’s drainage (sluice) valves, in a bid to dry out the lake and usurp the land. The natural forests around the lake were surreptitiously felled and kutcha (temporary) roads leading to the lake were constructed at the hilltop site, while goons posted at the site, scared off birders and other common citizens from approaching the lake area. https://www.indiatimes.com/news/india/this-goan-village-deserves-all-praises-for-conserving-a-century-old-lake-excellent-job-369752.html  (23 June 2019)

In Oct 2019, the Goenchea Raponkarancho Ekvott (GRE) and four other affected fishing organisations demanded North Goa collector to cancel Nov 2, 2019 public hearing stating that the draft EIA was prepared without a Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP). They also demanded a fresh EIA in accordance with the EIA notification 2006. GRE convener Olencio Simoes said several reports of the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) and Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Old Goa, stated that the entire Zuari estuary in which Nauxi bay is situated is rich in marine biodiversity and needs to be demarcated in the CZMP. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/goa/cancel-public-hearing-on-czmp-get-new-green-report/articleshow/71431570.cms   (4 Oct. 2019) 

Similarly, the government, farmers and activists strongly objected to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) proposal of re-designation of the state’s low lying lands which are locally known as khazans and are used by farmers in coastal areas for agriculture and aquaculture. The National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM), a scientific body under MoEF&CC was entrusted with the job to define coastal areas under the CZMP for the state. In its proposal, the NCSCM re-defined these as ‘lands’, instead marking them as tide-influenced water bodies, thus opening the door for uses other than agriculture and aquaculture, a move that people found to be a threat on their livelihoods. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/goa-battles-to-save-its-low-lying-lands-from-redesignation-by-the-moef/story-xkLNCLVw65tMVS5BZuNO2M.html  (2 Oct. 2019)

SOUTH INDIA

KARNATAKA

Mira tool to allow citizens to test lakes’s water quality without expert help Mira tool is stated to be launch in early 2020. It aims to help Bengaluru citizens in their efforts to resolve lake issues in the city. The tool’s smartphone application part, once downloaded, provides instructions about how to test a water body for nitrate, phosphate, chlorophyll, dissolved oxygen and fluoride content, using the reagents. The data can then be uploaded on the dashboard.

A combination of a smartphone-based application, reagents and an online dashboard as data repository, the Mira tool was being developed by Foundation for Environmental Monitoring, a not-for-profit company that creates open source products for field use and NextDrop, a start-up creating mobile technology for solving water issues. It is supported by Ashoka Trust for Research in Environment and Ecology or ATREE, Bengaluru and BIOME Environmental Solution and has been designed as open source software to minimise the cost and avoid vendor lock-in.

Moreover, while currently being developed for Bengaluru’s lakes, the dashboard aspect of the software can be customised to be used in other cities too. The Mira kit can be used for 50 tests at a cost of Rs 1,200 and the waiting time for test results is reduced to just a few seconds, making the tool cost-effective and generating almost instantaneous results as compared to laboratory tests. https://scroll.in/article/908086/a-new-tech-allows-citizens-to-test-water-quality-without-expert-help-can-it-save-bengalurus-lakes  (5 Jan. 2019)

A participatory planning workshop was organized by Sensing Local-Living along with Biome Trust, Varthur Rising and Whitefield Rising bringing together the various stakeholders to discuss and arrive at the appropriate guidelines for designing the Varthur Lake wetlands. The objective was to adopt the right approach for the development of the wetlands around the lake, arriving at the right size, depth, capacity as well as appropriate type, so as to impact positively its biodiversity.

The workshop witnessed representatives from four neighbourhoods, presenting their experience with rejuvenating their neighbourhood lake. These included Agara Lake, Puttenahalli Lake, Jakkur Lake and Lower Ambalipura Lake which had been revived with the active involvement of the local neighbourhoods and currently feature as fine examples of what citizen involvement and partnership can do to the city’s water bodies. https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/homes-and-gardens/lakes-wetlands-and-civic-interventions/article25970930.ece  (11 Jan. 2019)

The locals of Mylasandra and Rajarajeshwarinagar came together to fight against the illegal dumping of solid and sewage waste into Mylasandra Lake. They successfully cleaned up the locality and fixed the sewage line that brought waste into the lake.  The water body was under the Karnataka forest department since 2012. However, locals claimed that the state forest department was not maintaining the lake. https://www.timesnownews.com/mirror-now/society/article/bengaluru-locals-take-charge-to-clean-sewage-filled-mylasandra-lake-after-authorities-fail-to-maintain-it/350705 (20 Jan. 2019)

In Feb 2019, an engineering student Pawan claimed to have devised a filtration process using fruit peels which could be used to filter the water in polluted lakes. ​According to the student, it was tested at the State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) lab and yielded positive results. One litre of water taken from Bellandur lake when treated with this filtration process was deemed fit for domestic use except as drinking water.

However, certain questions regarding the filtration process including its effect on the biological and chemical demand of oxygen in the lake water were yet to be answered. Since the filtration process was a tertiary treatment of water, its quality to rid the water of nitrogen and sulphates was yet to be established. https://www.timesnownews.com/mirror-now/society/article/karnataka-bengaluru-bangalore-bellandur-varthur-lake-engineering-student-fruit-peels-filtration/366556 (15 Feb. 2019)

In Nov 2019, the forest department was learnt to be working on a new wetland policy after taking inputs from 100 odd countries from where migratory birds start their journey to India. Officials also added that the policy would propose getting the Ramsar site tag for Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, Magadi lake in Gadag and backwaters of Krishna in Bagalkot district and of Tungabhadra in Bellari district.  https://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/bengaluru/2019/nov/28/karnataka-joins-hands-with-100-nations-to-frame-wetland-policy-2068254.html  (28 Nov. 2019)

TAMIL NADU

Study on hill wetlands A team of researchers from Chennai-based Care Earth Trust studied water bodies in elevated areas, one of the first places of water capture in the hydrological cycle, as part of a major effort to conserve them for sustainability in future.

Started three years ago in the marshes of Dindigul district’s Kodaikanal in the Western Ghats, the location of the study moved to the Nilgiris[v], said Avanthika Bhaskar of the Trust. Preliminary research reiterated that wetlands in the hills are key to sustaining biodiversity, especially herbaceous plants, birds and mammals.  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/need-to-protect-hill-wetlands-today-tosave-water-for-future/articleshow/68514932.cms  (22 March 2019) 

All encroachments on wetlands must be removed: HC The Madras HC, in May 2019  directed the Chairperson, SWA to ensure removal of all encroachments from wetlands without showing any indulgence or sympathy. “The initial step is to disconnect the Water Supply and Electricity supply by informing the respective agencies and no civil court shall grant any interim order without invoking Order 18 Rule 18 of CPC and the inspection needs to be videographed and photographed”, said the division bench comprising Justices M.Venugopal and S.Vaidyanathan.

The bench also directed the authorities to stop further constructions, if any carried out on these lands and relocate the buildings, if any constructed on the lands to some other permitted area within one year and in that process, they must ensure that the debris were removed from the lands properly without causing any damage to the adjacent lands. https://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/current-affairs/020519/all-encroachments-on-wetlands-must-be-removed-madras-high-court.html  (2 May 2019)

The Chitlapakkam Rising, a volunteer organisation on May 28 was given permission by the Water Resources Department (WRD) to desilt the Chitlapakkam lake which was contaminated with sewage and plastic waste. Chitlapakkam Rising, formed in 2014, is a 5000-strong volunteer group that works on civic programmes such as cleaning up of roads and lakes, Right to Information (RTI) queries and monitors government projects. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/chennai/chennais-chitlapakkam-lake-revival-model-holds-key-to-fight-water-crisis-5758223/  (31 May 2019)

The Chennai-based environmentalist Arun Krishnamurthy has cleaned and restored at least 93 freshwater bodies across 14 Indian states. The community-led movement grew into the Environmentalist Foundation of India (EFI), a non-profit wildlife conservation and habitat restoration group. Since its inception in 2007, the organisation has been successful in clearing trash, invasive weeds, and strengthening the bunds in several water bodies including the Egatoor pond in Chennai, the Kinathukadavu system ponds, Pei Kulam at Tuticorin and others. https://www.livemint.com/news/india/ex-google-man-restoring-india-s-water-bodies-93-and-counting-1564948193421.html  (5 Aug. 2019)

The collaborative effort of EFI, Corporation and local residents has revived several smaller water bodies in the western and southern suburbs, which were neglected and considered almost non-existent in the city map.  https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/neglected-waterbodies-spring-to-life/article30126893.ece (1 Dec. 2019)

Similarly, of the 3,000 water bodies in Chennai city, the process to restore 210 was already underway. The work entails desilting as well as removing water hyacinth and garbage in the water bodies. From the photos in the story, it seems the water bodies are shrinking and the surroundings are being concretised, both seems to be against the interest of the water bodies. https://india.mongabay.com/2019/12/chennai-water-restoring-chennais-water-bodies/  (10 Dec. 2019)

Due to sustained efforts of the forest officials, 17-acre Otteri lake inside the Vandalur Zoo or the Arignar Anna Zoological Park was revived. Otteri Lake is situated on the western side of the park premises in Vandalur Zoo. Every year, after the monsoon, the lake attracts aquatic migratory birds. The zoo authorities also draw water for the animals in the zoo from Otteri lake, besides from the water taken from Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage Board (TWAD) as well as open wells and borewells on the premises. https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/water-birds-are-back-how-forest-officials-revived-dried-lake-chennai-zoo-113915  (11 Dec. 2019)

Further to this, the Devikulam and Munnar panchayats have set a model in wetland conservation in the district, found a study conducted by a 11-member expert team under Munnar irrigation section engineer PJ Shenthil as part of the Haritha Keralam mission project.

As per the study, a total of 36 sites designated as wetlands were conserved in Devikulam and 29 in Munnar panchayat.  “The sub wetland area in Periyar and Pamba are situated in Munnar and Devikulam. The plantation sector has successfully conserved the wetlands in these areas,” said the study report. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kochi/devikulam-munnar-set-model-in-wetland-mgmt/articleshow/67875208.cms (6 Feb. 2019)

Fisherwomen use food to fight Adani’s port expansion The Pulicat’s fisherfolk organized Pulicat Seafood Festival to highlight the impact of Adani group’s port expansion project, which would convert 1145 ha and sea in the critical Ennore-Pulicat wetland complex into industrial use to industrial real estate, possibly erasing close to 50 villages. Even if the villages aren’t displaced, the project would reclaim land from the wetlands and shallow seas surrounding the lake, not only impacting the Pulicat-Ennore ecosystem but also hogging the fishing grounds of Pulicat’s residents and severely affecting their livelihood.

With the wetlands and islands gone, the Ennore-Pulicat complex will no longer act as a buffer during heavy rains and cyclonic storms of the South West monsoon, potentially paving the way for a natural disaster such as flooding in Chennai and the state’s hinterlands. By highlighting the importance of the Ennore-Pulicat wetlands, the Pulicat Seafood Festival tries to show how its fate in terms of water and flood security is inevitably tied to the existence of this ecosystem. To celebrate the World Wetlands Day on February 2, 2020, the Pazhaverkadu menu curated by the Pulicat fisherwomen will be on offer for three days from January 31 – 2, at Sea Salt in Nungambakkam, Chennai. https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/fisherwomen-tamil-nadu-town-use-food-fight-adani-s-port-expansion-116760  (24 Jan. 2020)  

KERALA  

Greens oppose construction of road through wetlands, beach The Kozhikode District Environmental Committee opposed the construction of a road by filling wetlands and destroying mangroves on the Thottada beach, which was under the Edakkad zonal office of the Kannur Corporation. A meeting in this regard observed that the proposed road would lead to the collapse of the Thottada beach which was featured on the world tourism map. As part of their plan to launch an agitation against the move, the activists visited the area and filed a petition with the District Collector. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kozhikode/greens-oppose-construction-ofroad-through-wetlands-beach/article30514472.ece  (8 Jan. 2020)

A request for reclaiming nearly 90 acres of wetland at Kottukal, Thiruvananthapruam, which was “severely inundated” in the 2008 floods, for Vizhinjam seaport project has been declined by the government citing ecological reasons. An expert report of the State Level Monitoring Committee (SLMC) of the Kerala Conservation of Paddy Land and Wetland Act 2008 turned down the application, besides flagging the illegal reclamation carried out at the site. The company wanted to fill up the area for putting up warehouses and constructing roads to the project site. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/panel-denies-permission-for-reclaiming-wetland/article30444188.ece  (31 Dec. 2019)

TELANGANA

Government constitutes wetland authority In Feb 2019, the state government formed the SWA. Apart from the minister in charge of the environment department as its chairman, the SWA was to have 16 officials as its ex-officio members from the environment, forest, urban and rural development, water resources, fisheries, irrigation, among other departments. http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/telangana/2019/feb/16/ts-constitutes-wetland-authority-1939541.html (16 Feb. 2019)

“Quit post if you can’t protect Hyderabad’s lakes”: HC Expressing displeasure over inaction of Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) officials in preventing pollution of lakes in the city, a division bench of the High Court on January 20, 2020 asked the officials concerned, including the GHMC commissioner, to resign from their posts if they cannot discharge their duties properly. The court said that the people living in the surrounding areas have been suffering with health problems due to foul smell emanating from the pond. https://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/hyderabad/2020/jan/21/quit-your-posts-if-you-cant-protect-hyderabads-lakes-telangana-hc-to-ghmc-officials-2092318.html  (21 Jan. 2020)

CENTRAL GOVERNMENT

Smaller coastal wetlands to be mapped An MoU was signed between the Space Applications Centre (SAC), Ahmedabad under Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and Indian Council of Agricultural Research- Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (ICAR-CMFRI), Kochi on April 8 to map, validate and protect wetlands that are smaller than 2.25 ha across India’s 7,516.6km coastline, to build resilience against the impact of climate change. As per the MoU, the institutes aim to identify and demarcate wetlands, and protect them through coastal livelihood programs. As per the MoU, the two institutes will develop a smartphone application and webcast their conservation efforts to coastal stakeholders. https://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/coastal-wetlands-get-two-big-protectors/story-g2BYqWh6zuHq7LXS9EUjbI.html  (12 April 2019)

CMFRI teams up with ISRO to collect wetland data As per Sept 2019 report, the CMFRI and ISRO have developed a mobile app to collect the complete datasets on smaller wetlands across the coastal region of the country. The mobile app is aimed to generate a centralised digital database of the smaller wetlands (area below 2.25 ha) across the coastal areas of the country. Such smaller wetlands cover an area of more than five lakh ha across the country, while Kerala is having as many as 2,592 smaller wetlands. The app will be used to collect field-level data of the wetlands that include geo-spatial profile, size, water and soil quality, farmed species, pollution status, illegal construction and other biodiversity specialities.

– The initiative of monitoring the wetlands is carried out by the National Innovations in Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA) project wing of the CMFRI. The data collected using the mobile app will be done by registered researchers, farmers and stakeholders while the experts associated with the task will validate the data and will be stored in the central database.  https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/agri-business/cmfri-teams-up-with-isro-to-collect-wetland-data/article29557157.ece  (30 Sept. 2019)

130 wetlands to be restored on priority MoEF&CC has identified 130 wetlands for priority restoration in the next five years and asked state governments to submit their respective integrated management plan by October 15, 2019. The highest number of such identified wetlands are in Uttar Pradesh (16) followed by Madhya Pradesh (13), Jammu & Kashmir (12), Gujarat (8), Karnataka (7) and West Bengal (6). Each of these wetlands will be restored under a comprehensive scheme of the National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Ecosystems (NPCA) for conservation and restoration of wetlands and lakes. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/130-wetlands-to-be-restored-on-priority/articleshow/71017950.cms  (7 Sept. 2019)

3-year study to map migratory bird pathways across India The MoEF&CC has approved a three-year long study titled ‘Bird Sensitivity Mapping Tool’ to chart the pathways of migratory bird under the CAF across India. The study proposed and to be conducted by Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), would look at 77 locations over 17 states and cost Rs 3.9 crore. The study was announced on the sidelines of the International Conference on Wetlands and Migratory Water birds of the Asian Flyways in Lonavala on Nov 18, 2019.

The study would help policy development for proposed infrastructure projects and civil aviation bird alert issues. Said Deepak Apte, director, BNHS. “The aim is to enhance conservation practices across 77 locations (46 wetlands & 31 land sites including grasslands, forests, etc).” https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/moefcc-sanctions-3-year-study-to-map-migratory-bird-pathways-across-india/story-TTPWBIPXKMYC1ZLqks5VGO.html  (19 Nov. 2019)

New Wetland Conservation Rules notified  The MoEF&CC has notified Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules 2017 on Jan 6, 2020 and directed all States and UTs to set up SWAs to form strategies for conservation and wise use of wetlands within their jurisdiction. The authority would prepare a list of all wetlands of the state or UT within 3 months. The authority will include one expert each in the fields of wetland ecology, hydrology, fisheries, landscape planning & socio-economics. The experts will be nominated by the state govt. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/environment/centre-notifies-new-wetland-conservation-rules-asks-states-uts-to-set-up-authority/articleshow/73161225.cms   (6 Jan 2020)

The guidelines can be seen here. http://moef.gov.in/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/final-version-and-printed-wetland-guidelines-rules-2017-03.01.20.pdf 

The theme for World Wetlands Day 2020 is Wetlands and Biodiversity.  http://moef.gov.in/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Background-Material-World-Wetlands-Day-2020.pdf

As per the latest report, India has added 10 more wetlands to sites covered by the Ramsar Convention. The 10 new ones are Nandur Madhameshwar, a first for Maharashtra; Keshopur-Miani, Beas Conservation Reserve and Nangal in Punjab; and Nawabganj, Parvati Agra, Saman, Samaspur, Sandi and Sarsai Nawar in Uttar Pradesh. The other Ramsar sites are in Rajasthan, Kerala, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal, Jammu and Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh, Manipur, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Tripura. With this, a total of 37 sites in the country have been recognised under the international treaty. Wetlands declared as Ramsar sites are supposed to be protected under convention guidelines, however SANDRP study in the past showed that the convention did not help the cause of the wetlands against significant threats. https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/37-indian-wetlands-declared-sites-of-international-importance-under-ramsar-javadekar/article30675881.ece  (28 Jan. 2020)

SUPREME COURT

Municipal Commissioners Can be Prosecuted Under Water Pollution Law: SC Clearing the decks for action against a few former senior bureaucrats in Bengaluru, the SC in its November 2019 order ruled that municipal commissioners and chief officers can also be prosecuted under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act over pollution of water bodies in their jurisdictional areas.

Clarifying the law on this point, a bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan held that municipal bodies shall be deemed to be ‘body corporate’ and ‘company’ for the purposes of the Act, and that their heads could be prosecuted for polluting water. The top court noted an ambiguity in this regard for want of a precedent as to whether a municipal commissioner can be considered as head of a government department, liable to be prosecuted under the Water Pollution Act.

Discussing the objectives of the Act as also various other provisions, the bench noted that city municipal council and city municipal corporation are created or incorporated by the state and entrusted with the municipal functions, which includes ensuring clean environment to the residents, to control pollution. It went on to conclude that offences by body corporate like city municipal council and corporations are covered under Section 49 wherein a complaint has to be initiated by a pollution control board, treating it to be offence as by ‘company’.

With the clarification of the law on this point, the bench also paved way for prosecution of at least three former municipal commissioners in Bengaluru, against whom the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board had sought to initiate action. In 2006, the Board had filed a complaint against municipal commissioners of Krishnarajapuram, Kengeri, Rajarajeshwari Nagar and Mysore Road before a judicial magistrate in Bengaluru. The complaints stated that the officials had not only failed in setting up sewage treatment plants within the stipulated time but the accused persons have continuously been discharging the untreated sewage into the water bodies like ponds, lakes, natural valleys etc.

Some of these approached the HC, which quashed the complaint after holding that commissioner of municipal council, chief officer of council cannot be termed as head of the department and they cannot be prosecuted under the Water Pollution Act. But the Supreme Court, following its ruling, set aside this order and ordered that the magistrate may proceed with the complaints in accordance with law. https://www.news18.com/news/india/municipal-commissioners-can-be-prosecuted-under-water-pollution-law-rules-supreme-court-2405025.html  (29 Nov. 2019)

‘Water Bodies can not be diverted to industries In another significant development, the SC on Nov 25 decision asked the Greater Noida Industrial Development Authority to stop diverting water bodies for industrial activities. The landmark judgment can go a long way in reclaiming & reviving water bodies across the country that are being lost to reckless development.

The judgement overturns NGT order that dismissed Jitendra Singh’s petition which asked water bodies should not be diverted for industries. NGT rejected the petition after GNIDA assured that they would recreate alternative water bodies that would be bigger in size. The apex court, however, observed, “It might be possible to superficially replicate a water body but there is no guarantee that the adverse effect of destroying the earlier would be offset”. It added that destroying the lake at Khasra Nos 552 and 490 would “kill the vegetation”, prevent seepage of groundwater and compel people living around the lake to move at least 3 kms away. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/water/water-bodies-cannot-be-diverted-for-industries-supreme-court-68054  (29 Nov. 2019)

Civic body to pay for polluting drain: NGT Panel The NGT monitoring committee on Nov 2 inspected Kala Sanghian drain and 50 MLD, STP at Basti Peerdaad in Jalandhar, Punjab and decided to impose a penalty on the civic body for causing heavy damage to the drain due to the non-functional STP.  https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/civic-body-to-pay-for-polluting-drain-ngt/855401.html  (3 Nov. 2019)

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

[i] https://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/cut-above-rest

[ii] https://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/protecting-surajpur-wetland

[iii] For details about the wetland, see: https://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/deepor-beel-entangled-net-dangers

[iv] For Details about EKW, see: https://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/ingenious-system-manage-sewage-kolkata

[v] https://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/neeru-and-nilgiris

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