Dams · Wetlands

Ramsar Wetlands in Crisis: East India

In East India there are four Ramsar wetlands: two each in W Bengal and Odisha states. There are no Ramsar wetland sites in Bihar, Jharkhand or Sikkim, the other East India states. Here we provide a status of these Ramsar sites of East India, along with the kind of risks and threats these Ramsar sites face. The objective is to ensure greater awareness about these issues and hope that this will help achieve better responses from Ramsar convention as also the governments at various levels.

Ramsar Wetlands sites; East India

SN Names State Area (sqkm) GPS Coordinates Designated
1 East Kolkata Wetlands West Bengal 125 22°33’13.40″N 88°26’41.34″E 19 August 2002
2 Sundarban Wetland West Bengal 4230 21°46’38.79″N 88°47’16.75″E 01 February 2019
3 Chilika Lake Odisha 1165 19°44’36.43″N 85°18’38.48″E 01 October 1981
4 Bhitar Kanika Mangroves Odisha 650 20°43’18.63″N 86°51’32.28″E 19 August 2002

 West Bengal

East Kolkata Wetlands (EKW); Govt destroying unique wetlands system

The East Kolkata Wetlands (EKW) are unique yet complex system of natural and human-made wetlands in West Bengal. The 125 sq km area of wetlands comprising of salt marshes, salt meadows, and sewage farms and settling ponds was declared a Ramsar site in August 2002. The wetlands efficiently treats Kolkata’s sewage and the nutrients contained in the waste water to sustain fish farms and agriculture.

Kolkata produces almost 750 MLD of wastewater and sewage and core area of the city does not have a single STP as the EKW treats all the waste water[i] through natural process.

Though the EKW systems are applauded as an excellent example of pro-poor and environmentally sound sewage waste management, for past many years, these wetlands are under threat[ii] due to urban development projects including the real estate, flyovers and others. There is increase in illegal landfills around the EKW. Raising alarm on degradation of wetland, a study had in 2017 reiterated that the EKW may soon be history[iii] if more and more buildings keep coming up around it. It also revealed that the rapid conversion of land use had hobbled the fisheries and vegetable farms in the area and led to a crash in the local economy, ultimately creating distress among fisherfolks and farmers dependent on EKW. 

29 EKW j

Tonnes of plastic from cement bags to toothpaste tubes were being dumped in hundreds of illegal sheds within EKW. The toxic waste[iv] was then being sorted out and sold to illegal processing units, which had also cropped up in the EKW area.

The most significant government sponsored destruction of EKW began in  February 2017, when the EKW (Conservation and Management) (Amendment) Act, 2006 was placed[v] 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). Chatterjee was also the state housing minister, the state fire services minister as well as the Kolkata city’s mayor. The amendment vested too much of power in one person.

Before this, Sovan Chatterjee had openly said that wetlands conservation meant little to the poor and wished to change the status of wetlands to take up developmental projects. Questioning the precautionary measures prescribed to safeguard EKW under Ramsar convention, the minister had labelled it as hindrance in the development of eastern Kolkata.

After becoming the chairman of EKWMA Chatterjee proposed a review[vi] of the Ramsar site and argued in favour of “proper utilization” of the “barren” land in EKW. The minister also questioned the Chief Secretary’s role as past chairman of EKWMA, accusing him of never questioning the rationality behind EKW’s inclusion in Ramsar convention. The minister further alleged that Kolkata Municipal Corp (KMC) was kept in the dark during selection of EKW as a Ramsar site in 2002. The minister was possibly preparing grounds to legalize the illegal constructions[vii] in EKW.

In March 2017, another study had pointed out that in a decade from 2005 to 2015 Kolkata had lost 53 per cent[viii] of its peri-urban wetlands. It also revealed that heavy siltation in peri-urban wetlands and land-use change due to rapid urbanisation had decreased the flood-resilience efficacy of the wetlands by 65 per cent making about 17.3 % of population of the city vulnerable to high flood risk.

In the same month, civic authority proposed to develop a solid waste management[ix] site inside EKW. The state environment department officials also reiterated the need to modify the existing mandate of no land use in light of galloping urbanisation in the area.

In a strange move, Lew Young, a senior official of the Ramsar secretariat in March 2017, recommended redrawing of 12,500 ha EKW map after a study of its ecology and socio-economic conditions. There were clear indications from the report that the area under the wetlands would shrink following the exercise. 

Similarly, government proposal to set up a solar power plant on Dhapa, a part of the EKW again involved change in land-use[x] plan of the EKW eco-system. Vegetable farming was undertaken there for decades and an estimated 40 per cent of the city’s vegetables were being grown on those areas. The project also posed a threat on the livelihoods of thousands of vegetable growers depending on EKW.

In May 2017, the environment minister appeared to be keen on building a 6.5-km long flyover cutting through the heart of EKW[xi], with 146 piers being planned in the ecologically fragile pocket. The flyover project, quietly mooted some two years back, had reached an advanced stage with the alignment in place and detailed project report being prepared. Before this, the minister had made a proposal to set up an amusement park at the Ramsar site.

Surprisingly, to take the flyover project forward[xii], the minister on World Environment Day, June 5, 2017 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. Shockingly, the EKWMA in its July 14, 2017 meeting cleared the flyover project[xiii].

Reviewing the EKW related development since August 2017, a report highlighted that the EKW were facing threats from none other than the government[xiv] as it had proposed numerous construction projects within the wetland area, and the state’s environment minister was keen on pushing them through.

Apart from infrastructure projects, the West Bengal Housing Infrastructure Development Corp (WBHIDCO) had started building two roads through the wetlands. The illegal conversion of wetland areas by land mafias had also increased significantly, since the present govt assumed power. Seeing hostile govt, concerned citizens were forced to file PIL in Kolkata HC.

In Oct 2017 it was learnt that spiritual guru Ravi Shankar’s organisation Vaidic Dharma Sansthan (VDS) had built three storeyed building[xv] in EKW area and NGT had ordered demolition of the structure. The VDS in past, had ignored notices[xvi] sent by EKWMA and built the structure in August 2015. Despite having powers, EKWMA did not demolish the illegal building, following which an NGO, PUBLIC filed a petition before the green tribunal in 2016.

In another disastrous move, the state gov in Dec 2017, proposed lifting building[xvii] and land conversion restrictions in a section of EKW. A document prepared by the EKWMA under the dept of environment wanted to divide EKW into four zones, the last of which was proposed to have no special regulation.

In a sad development, ecologist and EKW crusader Dhrubajyoti Ghosh died[xviii] on Feb 16, 2018. Till the end he was fighting for EKW objecting to W Bengal govt’s plan to change land use policy of EKW.  

An Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) was commissioned[xix] for the road and flyover projects that were to be built through EKW in June 2018. However, experts objected to the move saying that, four months’ time was inadequate for a proper study.

In July 2018, the HC ruled out construction[xx] of controversial flyover proposed on EKW restraining the govt from going ahead though the Central Wetland Authority (CWA) had sanctioned the proposal. The court also ordered that the permission be first placed before the bench for it to decide on the project’s fate.

The proposed 5 km flyover from EM Bypass to New Town cut right through the Ramsar site. According to the blueprint, around 140 piers were to be built right on the bheris of fish farms, leading to 10 water bodies getting partly or fully filled.

Objecting to the project, concerned in Aug 2018 said that EKW was already under threat[xxi] and building a flyover or a road through them would only worsen matters.

Proposing a fine of Rs 50,000 a day for any delay in implementing the order, the NGT in Oct 2018 gave Naba-Diganta Industrial Township Authority (NDITA) and VDS 30 days’ time to remove encroachments[xxii] in the EKW. The court warned that it was reserving the right to pass appropriate orders on officials responsible for noncompliance as per provisions of the law.

In July 2019, the govt ordered new study[xxiii] for flyover project. After this, HIDCO was reported as engaging a consulting agency to prepare an EIA report and an environment management plan (EMP) for the proposed flyover.

Meanwhile, NGT committee report mentioned significant reduction in portion of sewage farms and agricultural land in the EKW due to conversion of land into residential land. The change was observed between the 2002 satellite map of EKW and the 2016 map showing massive extent of encroachment and land conversion, posing threats on the very existence of the Ramsar site.

Officials involved in the exercise feared that the report was so dismal that Ramsar could even remove the international tag. They admitted that the development projects like flyover, roads were actually paving the way for the construction machinery to roll into EKW and wipe it off.

As per another report, govt anti-encroachment drives[xxiv] were going on since 2012.  Till now, 357 FIRs had been filed against encroachment on EKW. Total number of encroachments on the sprawling wetlands were pegged at over 25,000. This showed the govt efforts had not made much difference.  

Sundarbans: Best protection against climate threats need protection from humans

The Sundarbans[xxv] is a mangrove area in the delta formed by the confluence of Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna Rivers in the Bay of Bengal. It spans from the Hooghly River in India’s state of West Bengal to the Baleswar River in Bangladesh. It comprises closed and open mangrove forests, agriculturally used land, mudflats and barren land, and is intersected by multiple tidal streams and channels. Despite a total ban on all killing or capture of wildlife other than fish & some invertebrates, there is a consistent pattern of depleted biodiversity or loss of species in the 20th century, & that the ecological quality of the forest is declining.

The Ramsar convention in Feb 2019, gave the Ramsar tag to the Indian side of the Sunderbans making it the largest protected wetland[xxvi] in the country. Home to the royal Bengal tiger, this is the second Ramsar site in Bengal after the EKW. 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.

30 Sundarbans j

While the Indian Sundarbans is a bio-diverse preserve, over four million people live on its northern and north-western periphery, putting pressure on the ecosystem[xxvii]. Concerns have been raised about natural ecosystems being changed for cultivation of shrimp, crab, molluscs and fish.

The Ramsar Information Sheet lists fishing and harvesting of aquatic resources as a “high impact” threat to the wetland. The other threats are from dredging, oil and gas drilling, logging and wood harvesting, hunting and collecting terrestrial animals. Salinity has been categorised as a medium and tourism as a low impact threat. The wetland is also vulnerable to climate change and requires better management and conservation practices.

The Sundarbans are natural protection wall[xxviii] against the increasing climatic threats in form of cyclones and storms. In 2019, the area suffered from the devastating cyclone Bulbul and such disaster would affect a large number of population if the wetland systems was not protected. Similarly construction of Farakka Barrage has caused reduction in water & silt flows in the Padma River resulting in rise in salinity in the rivers, wetlands & soils of the Sundarbans.  

Odisha

Chilika Lake thriving amid looming threats

Chilika Lake[xxix] is a brackish water lagoon, spread over the Puri, Khurda and Ganjam districts of Odisha state on the east coast of India, at the mouth of the Daya River, flowing into the Bay of Bengal, covering an area of over 1,100 km. It is the largest coastal lagoon in India and the second largest brackish water lagoon in the world.

It is the largest wintering ground for migratory birds on the Indian sub-continent. The lake is home to a number of threatened species of plants and animals. The lake is also a thriving ecosystem with large fishery resources. It sustains more than 150,000 fisher–folk living in 132 villages on the shore and islands. In 1981, Chilika Lake was designated the first Indian wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.

Though the wetland is comparatively in better condition and is being managed well, it has been facing various problems including sewage pollution from Bhubaneswar city, illegal prawn farming, and threats from governmental projects. The fisher community has also been finding it tough to survive due to increasing restrictions by administration. The regularly occurring cyclones are also important issue affecting the avian and aquatic fauna dependent on lake.

31 Chilika Lake j

The number of winged visitors had declined in the area following cyclone Phailin in Oct 2013. In Jan 2014, about 25 birds were poached[xxx] at Majhi Ora village on the banks of the lake. As per June 2016 report, the lake was steadily losing[xxxi] its rich repertoire of fish, crabs and other aquatic resources due to large-scale deforestation as a result six new breaches had taken place along 50-km long natural sand embankment in the lake.

In Oct 2016, the Odisha govt had raised concerns[xxxii] that Chhattisgarh govt’s projects would lead to reduction in Mahanadi river flows and would have disastrous impact on Chillika wetlands besides the Satkosia sanctuary, Bhitarakanika wetlands & Gahirmatha turtle habitat.

According to Gopal Panda, professor-emeritus of geography at Utkal University, the Chilika was getting 61 per cent of its inland flow from the Mahanadi river system mainly from its distributaries Daya and Bhargabi which was striking a fine balance between saline water entering it from the Bay of Bengal and if the flow got reduced, the salinity of the lagoon could increase, distorting its ecosystem.

In Jan 2017, a research paper in “Current Science” pointed out that the lake’s soil sediment had presence of four heavy metals[xxxiii] including cadmium, mercury, lead and Cobalt. Another study published in Oct 2017, raised concerns over discharge of sewage pollution[xxxiv] from Bhubaneswar city reaching the lake area via Daya river.

As per Feb 2018 report, though the fishing based income and tourism based revenue were increasing from the lake but the traditional fishers[xxxv] were increasingly being marginalized by growing competition from outsiders and unauthorized shrimp aquaculture. The report also mentioned that since 1991, the lake was besieged by river basin siltation of 13 million tonnes per year. Salinity was falling due to shoals clogging the seawater inlet channel, resulting in drastic fall in fish landings, and freshwater weeds were spreading over 523 sq km, leaving a weed-free surface of barely 335 sq km.

Similarly the shrimp culture in small ponds close to the Chilika lake were seen adversely affecting[xxxvi] the lagoon’s ecosystem. The fish pond owners were discharging untreated pollutants used for shrimp culture into the lake. The owners of these ponds were using electricity to pump the lake’s brackish water into the ponds for farming prawns. A huge amount of chemicals, including hormones and antibiotics, were mixed in the water that was later directly discharged back into the Chilika lake.

Though these were existing around the lake for years, the district administrations of Puri, Ganjam and Khurda had turned a blind eye to the problems. According to the Coastal Aquaculture Authority Act, for ecologically fragile areas such as the Chilika the coastal area was extended up to a distance of 2 km from the boundary of the lake and it was illegal to set up prawn hatcheries there. However, violations were rampant.

Similarly experts in June 2018 objected[xxxvii] to the large scale construction of ‘fish ponds’ and excavation work carried out in villages located on the shores of Chilika Lake posing extreme challenges to the flora & fauna of the lake. Terming govt’s fisheries policy as faulty, experts claimed that such activities had led to much loss of habitat for birds and Fishing Cat & Otters. The report mentioned that plastic pollution was adversely impacting the aquatic life in the lake.

The rivers flowing into Chilka were bringing a huge amount of plastic[xxxviii] garbage. The residents of about 147 nearby villages and thousands of fishermen operating in the lake were also dumping plastic bags, bottles and other garbage into the lake. Moreover, lakhs of tourists and picnickers visiting the lake were disposing plastic goods in the lake or on its coasts.

In June 2018, in violation of wetlands rules, the Civil Aviation Ministry approved a proposal for setting up of water aerodrome in Chilika lake without any impact assessment. The local people, political parties & govt agencies univocally criticised[xxxix] the move terming it a threat for birds’ diversity and fishermen.

The Chilika Development Authority (CDA) had also in writing stated that the proposed water aerodrome over the lake would negatively impact[xl] the ecosystem and the surrounding human population. The report further stated that the sound of seaplanes would affect breeding and navigation of the Irrawady dolphins, with highly sensitive hearing. Facing widespread stiff opposition, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) in Sept 2018 had to drop[xli] the proposed water aerodrome project.

As per Nov 2018 report, birds’ poaching[xlii] was still a problem in the lake area despite various attempts by forest departments.  

Similarly the Irrawaddy dolphins were dying frequently[xliii] in the lake despite strict laws raising concerns among authorities. During Jan–Feb 2019, four dolphins had died in the wetlands for various reasons amid annual census which had found a total 155 dolphins residing in the lake. The veterinarians confirmed that three dolphins died of pneumonia while fourth one succumbed to injuries caused by frequent movements of motorized boats.

Some experts had blamed sound pollution in the lagoon for dolphin deaths. They claimed that the operators of mechanised boats often chase dolphins to provide a clear view to the tourists. Consequently, a few dolphins sustained injuries by colliding with the boats.

Wildlife experts also stated that huge inflow of silt from rivers over the years had virtually made the lake inhospitable for dolphins. Moreover, massive water pollution due to the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers in agricultural lands was also harming the aquatic animals in Chilika.

Rampant overfishing[xliv] and lack of any regulation to protect the lake’s unique ecosystem were threatening the livelihoods of around two lakh fishermen living on the banks of the lake, forcing many of them to migrate to other coastal areas like Gujarat and other southern Indian states.

Activists said that fishermen communities were very low on the government’s priority. The state government had not come up with single comprehensive legislation in the last 25 years on conserving and regulating fishing on Chilika. As per the report, in 1994 a panel was constituted which suggested framing a law on Chilika affairs, which were ignored. Even the Planning Commission in 2008 in a report had suggested legislation and other measures to protect the whole Chilika ecosystem. That report too remained on paper.

Following Supreme Court’s 2017 direction, the Odisha HC in Jan 2019 had asked the state govt to start the demolition process of illegal prawn farms[xlv] in Bhitarkanika National Park and the Chilika Lake under the supervision of the committee formed for the purpose.

Surprisingly, in June 2019, the state government and the Amicus Curiae presented different reports on status of unauthorised prawn gheris[xlvi] in the lake area in HC. While the Advocate General stated that unauthorised prawn gheris were decreasing, the Amicus Curiae Mohit Agarwal said the extent of illegal prawn cultivation had almost doubled.

Same month, following recommendations of HC committee formed for taking measures to conserve the ecology of the Bhitarkanika National Park and Chilika, the state government decided to move[xlvii] the Centre for conducting the NRC exercise in Kendrapara district to identify and deport illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. Raising the issue, Amicus Curiae Agarwal had submitted that the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants have intruded into Bhitarkanika through sea route and permanently settled there.

In Aug 2019, the Indian Coast Guard issued a warning about possible oil spillage[xlviii] into Chilika Lake from a Malaysian cargo vessel which was stuck in the Bay of Bengal near the lake since Aug 7. In Sept 2019, the spillage fears diminished[xlix] after the pumping out of oil efforts progressed well.

In Dec 2019, the State Govt gave nod[l] to the Rs 7,500-crore Coastal Highway project to link Gopalpur and Digha of W Bengal. The 415-km long highway project was announced in 2015. The highway was running close to the Chilika Lake and there were delays in execution due to disagreements on its alignment plan. The Union Environment Ministry had also expressed reservations stating that it would be ecologically unsustainable to develop the highway in very close proximity to the sea, Chilika Lake and other eco-sensitive areas.

As per another report, the state government was contemplating to exclude eco-sensitive zone of Chilika from the proposed coastal highway plan fearing serious impact on Chilika’s flora and fauna and the habitat of dolphins. To fully understand the project implications on the wetlands more information is required. It’s also not clear whether the central government agencies have carried out any impact assessment of the project.

Bhitarkanika National Park faces climate change threats, corruption

Bhitarkanika[li] is 145 sq km large national park in Kendrapara district. It was designated as National Park in September 1998 and given the status of a Ramsar site in August 2002. It is surrounded by Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary, which spread over 672 sq km. The national park and wildlife sanctuary is inundated by the rivers Brahmani, Baitarani, Dhamra, Pathsala. It hosts many mangrove species, and is the second largest mangrove ecosystem in India.

Like Chilika, the Bhitarkanika wetlands is also affected by illegal prawn fishing. In July 2017, UNESCO had rejected[lii] government’s claim for inclusion of Bhitarkanika in the World Heritage List citing the illegal prawn farms in the park and its nearby areas as one of the reasons.

Farmers of the seaside villages have blamed the mushrooming of illegal shrimp farms and its effluent for destroying their fertile agricultural lands. The effluent of the prawn gherries was being released into the nearby rivers and ponds and polluting the groundwater in villages. Besides, the illegal farms were posing direct threat to the nearby rich mangrove forests. Despite demolition drives, the prawn gherries were increasing around the wetlands.

32 Bhitar Kanika Wetlands j

As per another report, in Kendrapara, powerful prawn mafias[liii] have for decades illegally occupied vast stretches of area after clearing mangrove forests.

The Kendrapara district and BNP area have been facing sea erosion[liv] for decades. As a result the groundwater in village area is contaminated and large tract of farming land has been inundated by sea water. The erosion is particularly acute near Satabhaya village. According to the National Centre for Coastal Research report, Odisha has lost 28 per cent of its 485 km coastline between 1999 and 2016.

Though the coastal erosion is largely attributed to climate change, many environmentalists suspected that development projects in the 1960s such as the construction of the Paradip Port  just over 80 km from Satabhaya; the felling of mangroves for other development projects and dams in the upstream trapping the silt and water may have aggravated the process. No proper studies, however, have been taken up in this regard.

About 571 erosion displaced families have been resettled in Bagapatia by the government. But since there are no jobs or alternative livelihoods in the settlement for the villagers, and neither has the state government provided them with land to cultivate, or compensation for fields lost to the sea, most of the resettled villagers earn their livelihoods by catching fish, crabs and prawns from the inundated fields where they used to grow paddy not so long ago.

The Bhitarkanika coastal wetlands is also home to elusive fishing cats[lv] whose habitats has not been studied properly and conservation measures are not in place.

As per December 2018 report, the luxurious seven boats procured from Goa in 2014 under Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) project for tourists at a cost  ₹7 crores were gathering dust[lvi] for four months at a creek in Gupti in BNP.

The four year old decision of the central government to declare 192 villages around BNP and its nearby areas as ESZ became as a major election issue[lvii] in April 2019 where rival political candidates argued for and against the move.

Similarly, around 30,000 riverside villagers near the BNP and its adjoining areas in the Rajnagar and Mahakalapada Assembly seats have been facing a problem due to wild boar and crocodile attacks[lviii] in their areas.

As per the report, despite increase in crocodile population in the water bodies of BNP, forest officials have been releasing baby crocodiles from the breeding centre every year. The BNP water bodies can hold around 400-500 crocodiles, but there are now 1,742 saltwater crocodiles in the area’s rivers and creeks. Due to shortage of fish food and increase in numbers in the rivers and creeks of BNP, the crocodiles are reaching to the drains, creeks and rivulets nearby in search of food and often killing human beings and cattle.

A total of 22 villages located within the periphery of the national park have been facing the problem for years. Around 50 to 60 people have been killed[lix] by the estuarine crocodiles in the last decade. Many have been maimed apart from death of hundreds of cattle. In June 2019, a half-eaten body of 45 year old farmer Sanjay Pradhan, by a saltwater crocodile, was found[lx] in the Baitarani river at Mandapada village near BNP. It was the fifth deadly crocodile attack in Bhitarkanika in last 12 months.

As per another report in November 2019, the rampant deforestation[lxi] by prawn mafia operating within BNP has made the mangrove forest prone to cyclones and other natural calamities as was evident from the considerable damage to the park’s flora by cyclone Bulbul even though it had passed by without making landfall here.

As many as 45 villages with a population of one lakh around the national park have been badly affected by the cyclone. The reason for this has been attributed to denudation of mangrove forest in these areas by prawn mafia.

Similarly, due to administration and forest officials’ apathy, the invaluable mangrove forest cover in the eco-sensitive BNP has fallen prey to rampant encroachment[lxii] and illegal constructions also up in violation of the Coastal Regulated Zone (CRZ) Act as mentioned in November 2019 report.

The situation has turned grim in Talchua and Ramnagar areas where large parts of mangrove forest have been cleared and houses and shops constructed on them. The water channel has also been blocked by the buildings.

Locals alleged such gross illegalities are being furthered in connivance with unscrupulous forest and revenue staff and urged demolition of all structures along with urgent steps to revive the precious mangrove cover in the area.

In a shocking development, carcasses of three Irrawaddy dolphins[lxiii] were found washed ashore with external injury marks at Pentha beach in December 2019. Officials felt that the species might have perished after being hit by propellers of fishing trawlers.

As per the latest report, the authorities in February 2020 had to postpone[lxiv] the first edition of the Bhitarkanika Mahotsav by a week in view of the adverse weather condition prevailing in coastal areas of the state. Concerned people had also strongly raised objections on use of loud music in ecologically sensitive area during the festivals.

In another shocking development in February 2020, body of a 40-year-old RTI activist was found[lxv] with several injury marks on a road in Berua village in Kendrapada. The deceased Ranjan Kumar Das, was convener of the district unit of Odisha Suchana Adhikar Abhijan, was reportedly raising his voice against illegal sand quarrying, brick kiln owners and some allegedly venal NGOs and officials in the district and nearby areas.

An RTI inquiry filed by him two years ago had exposed the illegal construction of a tourist resort by Odisha Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC) in BNP. Das had reportedly brought to the fore the brazen violation of law by OTDC in building a tourist resort in the park’s core area where no such construction is allowed. According to reports, he had also exposed embezzlement of about Rs 25 lakh of ICZM funds by an NGO in the district in a clear nexus with the forest officials of the BNP by not planting mangrove trees in the forest.

Interactive map of Ramsar Wetlands sites in India

Summary This narration of issues from media reports clearly show that the all Ramsar sites in East India are facing various kinds of crisis. The EKW has been facing threats and destruction from the state government itself. The selection of environment minister as EKWMA chairman when the same individual is also mayor, proposed amendment to EKWMA, pushing of development projects though and around the wetland highlight that the government is least concerned about the Ramsar wetland, a nature’s marvel.

The environment minister has even questioned the selection of EKW as Ramsar sites and worse, the Ramsar officials reportedly considered reduction in the EKW area.

Similarly the, human intervention and pressure is growing in Sundarbans and the wetland is also facing climate disasters in increasing intensity and frequency.

The condition of Chilika appears better on surface but it faces several emerging threats. The death of dolphins by increased motorised movements, illegal poaching of birds, overfishing, and illegal prawn farms are some such threats. At the same time the plight of traditional fisherfolks has only worsened. The silt load, sewage and solid waste pollution and encroachment in and around the lake is steadily on the rise. 

While after strong objections the water aerodrome project had been scrapped, the impacts of proposed coastal highway projects warrant thorough assessment.

The illegal prawn farms and discharge of chemical pollution in Bhitarkanika is presenting a serious threat. The mangrove area near the wetlands are also facing constant sea water erosion and deforestation which has polluted the groundwater in the area affecting the farmers, villagers and fishermen adversely. The attack of wild boars and crocodiles on the villagers has become a serious issue and the authorities have failed to provide relief to the affected people.

The cases of rising encroachments with involvement of officials, corruption and misuse of management funds and killing of RTI activist who has exposed the malpractices have raised many questions.

One would like to see response from Ramsar Convention and governments at various levels to these issues.  

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

Also See

Ramsar Wetlands in Crisis: North India

Ramsar Wetlands in Crisis: West India

Ramsar Wetlands in Crisis: North East India

Ramsar Wetlands in Crisis: South India

End Notes:

[i] https://www.thebetterindia.com/84746/east-kolkata-westland-dhrubajyoti-ghosh-organic-sewage-management/ 

[ii]  https://sandrp.in/2016/06/22/threats-to-east-kolkata-wetlands-are-threats-to-kolkata-majhi-jo-nau-dubaaye/

[iii] http://indiaclimatedialogue.net/2017/02/01/realty-chokes-kolkata-wetlands/ 

[iv] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/kolkata-faces-renal-failure-as-plastic-chokes-wetlands/articleshow/56945586.cms

[v] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/now-environment-minister-sovan-chatterjee-to-decide-fate-of-wetlands/articleshow/57137637.cms 

[vi] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/sovan-chatterjee-new-wetlands-boss-talks-of-proper-use-of-protected-site/articleshow/57263722.cms 

[vii]  https://sandrp.in/2018/02/01/east-india-wetlands-review-2017-west-bengal-bent-on-destroying-worlds-largest-natural-sewage-treatment-plant/

[viii] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/east-kolkata-wetlands-only-hope-for-flood-prone-kolkata-study/articleshow/57472932.cms 

[ix] http://indiaclimatedialogue.net/2017/03/13/east-kolkata-wetlands-face-new-threats-government/

[x] http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/kolkata-solar-project-under-shadow/article17532674.ece 

[xi] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/mayor-wants-flyover-through-wetlands/articleshow/58723538.cms 

[xii] https://housing.com/news/bengal-environment-minister-assures-alternate-lake-construction-flyover-project/ 

[xiii] https://www.telegraphindia.com/1170731/jsp/calcutta/story_164755.jsp

[xiv] https://www.thethirdpole.net/2017/08/15/fresh-proposals-place-east-kolkata-wetlands-under-new-threat/ 

[xv] http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/ngt-orders-demolition-of-building-of-ravi-shankar-s-charitable-body-in-kolkata-wetlands/story-5frmmLP7ic5TRXYSMzYWwO.html 

[xvi] http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/ngt-orders-demolition-of-building-of-ravi-shankar-s-charitable-body-in-kolkata-wetlands/story-5frmmLP7ic5TRXYSMzYWwO.html 

[xvii] http://www.hindustantimes.com/kolkata/west-bengal-may-lift-building-limits-in-fragile-wetlands/story-8SHhaeNXHTPEsIOpKqlt9N.html

[xviii] https://www.hindustantimes.com/kolkata/dhrubajyoti-ghosh-ecologist-who-introduced-east-kolkata-wetlands-to-the-world-passes-away/story-3hGeLXYD6lZP2M5bQHjnzH.html

[xix] https://www.telegraphindia.com/states/west-bengal/impact-report-on-wetlands-projects/cid/1419132  

[xx] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/wetlands-flyover-centre-nod-not-enough-hc-to-take-call/articleshow/64891127.cms

[xxi] https://www.telegraphindia.com/states/west-bengal/activists-sound-east-calcutta-wetlands-alarm-bell/cid/1654693  

[xxii] https://dc.icsf.net/en/component/dcnews/articledetail/12399-West-Bengal–DM.html   

[xxiii] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/new-green-study-ordered-for-flyover-via-wetlands/articleshow/70311590.cms   

[xxiv] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/kolkata-civic-body-starts-razing-illegal-buildings-on-wetlands/articleshow/73068556.cms  

[xxv] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sundarbans

[xxvi] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/ramsar-tag-makes-indian-sunderbans-largest-protected-wetland-in-country/articleshow/67813084.cms

[xxvii] https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/protecting-the-sundarban-wetlands/article26482707.ece

[xxviii] https://thefinancialexpress.com.bd/editorial/taking-care-of-the-sundarbans-1582042776

[xxix] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chilika_Lake

[xxx] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-2542011/Poachers-kill-25-birds-Chilika-Lake.html 

[xxxi] https://www.deccanchronicle.com/lifestyle/pets-and-environment/120616/struggle-for-survival-for-chilika-lake-faces-threats.html

[xxxii] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bhubaneswar/Reduced-Mahanadi-flow-may-hit-Chilika-species/articleshow/54619383.cms

[xxxiii] https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2017/jan/11/metal-threat-heavy-in-chilika-lake-1558423.html

[xxxiv] https://www.academia.edu/35114756/ANTHROPOCENE_EFFECTS_ON_THE_RIVER_DAYA_AND_THE_LAGOON_CHILIKA_BY_THE_EFFLUENTS_OF_BHUBANESWAR_CITY_INDIA_A_PHYSICO-CHEMICAL_STUDY?email_work_card=view-paper

[xxxv] https://indiaclimatedialogue.net/2018/02/02/chilika-scripts-success-story-fishers-face-challenges/

[xxxvi] https://www.telegraphindia.com/states/odisha/shrimp-farm-threat/cid/1417484

[xxxvii] https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2018/jun/21/fish-ponds-a-threat-to-chilika-lagoons-ecology-1831299.html

[xxxviii] https://www.orissapost.com/plastic-poses-threat-to-chilika-lagoon-environment/

[xxxix] https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/green-activist-opposes-water-aerodrome-project-in-chilika/article24694052.ece 

[xl] https://indianexpress.com/article/india/odisha-chilika-development-authority-warns-against-aviation-ministrys-proposed-water-aerodrome-on-lake-5343778/ 

[xli] https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-in-school/aai-shelves-water-aerodrome-project-in-chilika-lake/article24930380.ece 

[xlii] https://www.telegraphindia.com/states/odisha/poaching-threat-to-migratory-birds/cid/1675784

[xliii] https://www.orissapost.com/chilika-dolphins-in-danger/

[xliv] https://www.firstpost.com/india/govt-apathy-unchecked-fishing-mafia-forcing-odishas-chilika-fishermen-to-migrate-to-southern-states-6313971.html

[xlv]  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bhubaneswar/hc-asks-govt-to-start-demolishing-illegal-prawn-gheries-in-wetlands/articleshow/67647062.cms

[xlvi] https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2019/aug/06/dispute-over-illegal-prawn-gheris-in-chilika-2014825.html

[xlvii] https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2019/aug/04/odisha-to-move-centre-for-nrc-in-kendrapara-for-illegal-prawn-culture-activity–2013868.html 

[xlviii] https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/chilika-faces-oil-spillage-threat-from-stuck-ship/article29095137.ece

[xlix] https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/spillage-threat-wanes-as-tug-drained-of-oil-in-chilika-lake/article29314025.ece 

[l] https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2019/dec/10/odisha-government-gives-nod-for-coastal-highway-project-2073967.html

[li] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhitarkanika_National_Park

[lii] https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2018/mar/29/odisha-illegal-prawn-farms-razed-in-bhitarkanika-1794136.html 

[liii] https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/why-armed-policemen-patrol-odishas-mangroves/article26342076.ece

[liv] https://scroll.in/article/905954/this-area-is-doomed-so-are-we-why-odishas-coastal-erosion-refugees-keep-returning-to-old-homes 

[lv] https://scroll.in/article/901975/fishing-cat-researchers-are-trying-to-shed-light-on-the-little-known-felines-that-swim-for-food

[lvi] https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2018/dec/02/luxury-boats-gather-dust-in-bhitarkanika-park-1906134.html 

[lvii] https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2019/apr/04/bhitarkanikas-eco-sensitive-zone-a-major-poll-issue-1960043.html 

[lviii] https://www.orissapost.com/boars-crocs-poll-issues-in-rajnagar-mahakalapada/ 

[lix] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bhubaneswar/bhitarkanika-locals-say-theyll-vote-for-party-that-protects-them-from-crocs/articleshow/68985790.cms 

[lx] https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2019/jun/03/odisha-mans-half-eaten-body-found-near-crocodile-sanctuary-1985482.html 

[lxi] https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2019/nov/13/mangroves-in-bhitarkanika–under-prawn-mafia-threat-2061022.html

[lxii] https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2019/nov/19/illegal-structures-take-a-toll-on-odishas-bhitarkanika-mangroves-2063779.html

[lxiii] https://www.indiatvnews.com/news/india/dolphin-carcasses-washed-ashore-at-pentha-beach-in-odisha-571354 

[lxiv] https://www.orissapost.com/bhitarkanika-festival-postponed-to-feb-14/ 

[lxv] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bhubaneswar/rti-activist-who-protested-against-illegal-sand-mining-found-dead-in-kendrapada/articleshow/73852437.cms 

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