India’s Wetlands Overview 2021: Gross Misuse of even Ramsar sites

(Feature image:- Deepor Beel wetland area has been suffering from environmental degradation due to continuous encroachment and waste dumping. The Guwahati Municipality dump yard, located at Boragaon, lies in the eastern corner of Deepor Beel. Photo: Ritu Raj Konwar/Front Line)

Wetlands are important part of hydrological cycle and play critical role in water purification, climate moderation, biodiversity conservation and flood regulation apart from offering innumerable environmental services to aquatic, wildlife and human beings for which they are also referred as ‘kidneys of the earth’. There are more than 2 lakh wetlands in India covering nearly 4.6 per cent of its geographical area. Despite their essential services and significance, the already neglected wetlands eco-system have been facing multiple existential threats.

As part of its annual overview for 2021, SANDRP in three part series attempts to highlight the state of wetlands in India during past one year. This first part compiles the 10 top critical reports representing the present day status of wetlands across the country. The second part would cover various actions and initiative taken by the state governments and central government all through 2021 impacting the wetlands. The final part would deal with the judicial interventions on wetlands.

1. Assam Locals oppose railway track realignment Neighbours of Deepar Beel (a Ramsar site) opposed the proposed realignment of a railway track skirting its southern edge. The project would be catastrophic for the ecology of the Rani-Garbhanga Reserve Forest, affect a prime elephant corridor & uproot the indigenous people, they say. On Sep 13, a memorandum with 600 signatures of villagers around Deepar Beel was submitted to W. Longvah, Inspector-General of Forest, at the integrated regional office of the MoEF in Guwahati.

The villagers listed the reasons for opposing the realignment of the railway track that has in three decades killed 14 elephants. The issue of the garbage dumping ground on the edge of Deepar Beel was also taken up with Mr. Longvah. Seepages from the dump and sewers from Guwahati have made the Deepar Beel toxic, threatening aquatic life and waterfowls. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/assam-wetland-neighbours-oppose-railway-track-realignment/article36472679.ece  (15 Sept. 2021)

Flaws in Deepar Beel ESZ “A thorough study of the notification showed the ESZ will serve no purpose. The minimum distance for polluting units should have been 5 km from the boundary of the sanctuary,” Chakardeo-based dairy farmer and green activist Pramod Kalita said. The notification is not clear about the role of the local communities, he added. “Apart from factories and warehouses set up close to the wetland, Deepar Beel suffers from the garbage dump on its edge at Paschim Boragaon. This dump has been kept out of the ESZ, and this could have been done to book space for some industrial unit in the future,” he said.

Mr. Kalita also pointed out that Guwahati’s sewage is drained into Deepar Beel from 15-20 km away. “What’s the point of limiting the ESZ to a few metres around the wetland if it continues to be used as a sponge for the city’s garbage and sewage?” he asked. The Environment Ministry, Mr. Kalita added, also has to spare a thought about the railway track along the southern boundary of Deepar Beel. “Instead of realigning it, the railway is planning another track alongside, besides electrification,” he said. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/locals-point-to-flaws-in-assams-deepar-beel-eco-sensitive-zone/article36219682.ece  (1 Sep 2021)

Villagers tell wetland’s tragic tale through photos Five green groups got together to clear and segregate the trash around the photo exhibition ‘gallery’ on Aug 15, 2021. They honoured some “haati bondhus” (friends of elephants), elderly residents of villages in the vicinity, who keep a watch on the pachyderms during their movement between the elevated Rani Reserve Forest and Deepor Beel. The elephants have to cross the railway track and the road alongside to reach the wetland. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/assam-villagers-tell-wetlands-tragic-tale-through-photos/article35927316.ece  (15 Aug. 2021)

Deepor Beel, a Ramsar site near Guwahati, known for its fish and bird diversity and rich aquatic vegetation that attracts wild elephants, faces threats from garbage dumping, quarrying, and the construction of a railway line, besides a smart city project. https://frontline.thehindu.com/environment/deepor-beel-the-riverine-wetland-in-lower-brahmaputra-valley-on-the-brink/article34108353.ece  (26 March 2021)

Paddy cultivation in Son Beel is viewed as an encroachment. Photo by Saanku Das/Mongabay India)

Son Beel, one of the largest wetlands of Assam is shrinking. This depletes the fish catch, thereby truncating the income of fishermen. Unsustainable fishing, pollution and agricultural encroachments are other issues that challenge Son Beel’s ecosystem. Some experts say that declaring Son Beel as a Ramsar site is important, while others call for the fisherfolk to fish sustainably and the govt to introduce better policies. https://india.mongabay.com/2021/10/fishermen-struggle-to-survive-as-assams-largest-wetland-shrinks-away/  (01 Oct. 2021)

Sonbeel  – the second largest wetland in Asia – located under Ratabari constituency of Karimganj, is facing acute water crisis this monsoon. It is drying, sinking, reducing the water level to an unprecedented extent. Such a phenomenon has not occurred in recent memory. https://www.sentinelassam.com/north-east-india-news/assam-news/asias-second-largest-wetland-sonbeel-in-karimganj-faces-crisis-545384 (4 Jul 2021)

2. Goa Activists assail CZMP at marathon hearings Activists & environmentalists pointed out several discrepancies in the draft of the controversial Coastal Zone Management Plan (CZMP)  during the much delayed public hearings on July 8 2021, with many alleging it was unlikely to protect & restore the coast. “The plan has several omissions of fishing villages, fishing sites & traditional access routes to the coast have not been shown. We are demanding that the plans submitted by the coastal villages which accurately reflect local knowledge, be accepted & incorporated into the final plan,” Abhijit Prabhudesai, an activist said. Wetlands were an important part of CZMP.

The plan, which is a statutory document under the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification of 2011, was initially meant to have been ready by 2015 but has seen several delays forcing the NGT to ban fresh permissions for coastal development or business until the plan is finalized. Environmental activist group Goa Foundations said the draft contained “no management plan for the sand dunes anywhere, no management plan for the turtle nesting beaches, no management plan for the khazan lands [and] no management plan for the mangroves.”

“The local communities for whom the notification was designed and intended to benefit have not been consulted in its preparation. They are now being asked to acquiesce in the draft prepared by experts who have little credible knowledge of local conditions and have made huge errors. The draft plan, therefore, focuses only on geomorphological descriptions of the coastal area,” the Goa Foundation, which refrained from participating in the public hearing, but submitted written submissions, said.

Among the foremost complaints, the activists have said that Goa’s khazan lands, which are an intricate system of low lying lands that are inundated during high tides, have been either only partially marked or erroneously classified in different villages. “A Khazan Management Plan should have been under preparation from January 2011. This was nowhere done and the department of Environment and the Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority should be held criminally responsible for this lapse,” the Goa Foundation said. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/activists-assail-goa-coastal-management-plan-at-marathon-hearings-101625898993714.html  (10 July 2021)

After 15 hours, the two public hearings conducted on July 8 2021 as part of the mandatory requirements to finalise the CZMP, ended amid noisy scenes with participant after participant pointing out flaws and discrepancies in the draft plan prepared by the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management–Chennai.

Irked participants also blamed the authorities for deliberate attempts to frustrate speakers by creating hindrances right from the lack of a podium to the refusal to display the CZMP map, the very map that is under scrutiny. Most of the speakers, both in North and South Goa, said the village plans prepared by panchayats and vetted by local stakeholders were not reflected in the CZMP. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/goa/goa-coastal-plan-hearing-ends-after-15-hours-participants-term-it-farce/articleshow/84257467.cms  (09 July 2021)

Goa Foundation alleged that several errors have been allowed into the draft CZMPs. “Re-zoning of beach areas like Querim (Tiracol), Palolem, Cola have been carried out without any legal basis. Each village community is finding hundreds of errors in the village plans,” said Alvares. He said that the GCZMA had put up the maps for public hearing without examining them first as a result of which errors pointed out by village communities during the 2019 public consultation have remained in the new draft plans. “Changes made to show several illegal constructions in the draft CZMPs (when several legitimate constructions have been left out) indicate indirect influence on the preparation of the draft CZMPs. This may require a criminal investigation” said Alvares.

Activists had alleged that 254 maps that were to cover the state but certain villages and municipal areas have been missing from the maps. Locals and fishermen from South Goa villages have claimed that structures including some homes and churches have been left out of the CZMP. Traditional Fishermen Association and Goenchea Raponkarancho Ekvott had approached the Bombay High Court urging it to quash and set aside the public hearings scheduled on March 7, 2021. Earlier this week, however, the Goa bench of the High Court asked the petitioners to move the NGT and disposed of the petitions. https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-why-finalisation-of-draft-czmp-has-stoked-a-controversy-in-goa-7217091/   (06 March 2021)

3. Kerala Ashtamudi Lake now a sewage dump site “Very pathetic” is how the Kerala State Legal Services Authority’s (KeLSA) report to the high court describes the condition of the lake spread over an area of around 1,700 sq km and surrounded by swaying coconut groves and palm trees and spotted by several small islands. The report also said that sewage from nearby residences and government establishments was the main reason for pollution of the lake and also for putting its unique wetland ecosystem under risk of permanent damage.

District judge and KeLSA member secretary K T Nisar Ahammad, who inspected the lake, said that with a little bit of effort the corporation could have cleaned up some portion of the lake, especially the part close to the KSRTC bus stand where the situation is really bad, but no one, including the local body, appeared to be bothered. He said that a few years back the government had sanctioned funds for cleaning up the lake, but it never took off and now there was another project, worth over ₹100 crore, in play for the same purpose. Salim said that the garbage and filth were being dumped in the area for years and as a result the more than 100 species of fishes, mangroves, coconut groves and palm trees were being adversely affected.

A resident of the area for decades, he remembers his younger days when along with his friends he used to take a dip in the lake. “Now you cannot even dare to dip your hand in the water, as if you could end up having rashes or blisters or some other infection,” he said. Even fish, like Karimeen, found in the lake no longer taste the same when Ashtamudi was not as polluted as it was presently, he said. “You cannot walk along the lake side without your olfactory senses being overwhelmed by the stink emanating from there,” he added. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/ashtamudi-lake-gateway-to-kerala-s-backwaters-now-a-sewage-dump-site-101633114717277.html  (02 Oct. 2021)

Ashtamudi wetland under siege Not even a signboard has been placed to indicate the stature of the lake that was numbered Ramsar site 1,204. “The authorities concerned have carried out minimal work to conserve the Ashtamudi lake. Voluntary efforts by social organisations & local people are keeping it alive,” said V I Rahul, an environmentalist who lives near the lake saying reclamation, pollution & sand-mining have caused the damage.

V K Madhusoodanan, another environmentalist, said only a small portion of the special funds allocated by the MoEF for the conservation of the lake has been utilised. “Almost all courses of the lake have become waste-dumping sites with plastic the biggest threat,” he said.

Large areas of Ashtamudi have been reclaimed for development projects and more are earmarked for upcoming projects. The lake that once spanned an area of 61.4 sq km has now shrunk to 34 sq km. Besides encroachment to accommodate the increasing population, the formation of new islets between Dalavapuram, Neendakara and Kavanadu have also contributed to the reduction in the area of the lake.

Rahul has filed a PIL with the Kerala High Court pointing out that, if the road is allowed, it would severely affect the already disturbed ecosystem of the Ashtamudi wetland. The 2.75 km road, costing Rs 254.4 crore, has been constructed to ease the traffic along the 1.6 km stretch connecting Collectorate Junction, High School Junction and Kollam bus stand. However, the Kollam bypass has apparently made the project irrelevant as a major part of the traffic flows along the bypass. The authorities claim the road will be constructed on pillars, but the tidal flow is likely to be affected. https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/kerala/2021/feb/12/ashtamudi-wetland-under-siege-2262852.html  (12 Feb. 2021)

4. Uttarakhand Opposition to beautification of Sattal Environmentalists and local residents were opposed to the proposed redevelopment plan of the Sattal Lake, which involves building a children’s park, a view point and beautification and landscaping work. They believe concretization in the area will adversely affect the ecology around the lake, which is home to nearly 500 bird and butterfly species.

Authorities meanwhile assured that all stakeholders had been consulted before the project was initiated and that the beautification and landscaping work would not disturb the local ecology. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/locals-environmentalists-oppose-beautification-of-sattal-lake/articleshow/82107715.cms  (17 April 2021)

An online petition to declare Sattal a “conservation reserve” garnered 32,000 signatures while a website has been built dedicated to the ‘Save Sattal’ campaign. The region is one of the few breeding places for the endangered mahseer fish. It is also one of the last remaining oak forests in Uttarakhand. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/Armed-with-online-petition-website-Twitterstorms-locals-intensify-stir-against-Sattal-development/articleshow/84151294.cms  (06 July 2021)

This report describes the threats to lakes in Nainital including Sattal lake. https://hindi.carboncopy.info/city-of-lakes-nainital-in-danger/  (23 July 2021)

Instead of restoring the degraded Sukhatal, developmental authorities are converting the alive wetland into a dead swimming pool, killing its wetland status & creating deadly repercussions for the Nainital Town. https://countercurrents.org/2021/09/encroaching-a-wetland-in-the-name-of-rejuvenation-sukhatal-lake-restoration-project-tells-the-story/ (22 Sep 2021)

Nainital lake’s lifeline is under threat as authorities plan to choke the lake’s most important recharge zone – Sukhatal. https://savekumaon.com/lakes-of-kumaon-nainital-sukhatal/ (20 Oct 2021)

5. Manipur Mega ‘eco’ tourism project affects Loktak wetland The Loktak lake (a Ramsar Site) is currently at the crossroads of development, where any hurried step could be a step back. Sendra Islands’ shift from being a free and commonly accessed landform, to its current avatar of privatized resort is difficult to look past. While tourism might provide livelihood to some, the more important question is what type of tourism. For those living in and around Loktak, the tourism model they are advocating for is one that involves them in making decisions that are truly beneficial for the ecology. https://thebastion.co.in/politics-and/environment/conservation-and-development/mega-ecotourism-project-questions-livelihoods-in-manipurs-loktak-lake/  (26 Feb. 2021)

Loktak lake stretching up to 35 kilometres in length is being handed over to the hospitality industry. But fishermen wonder why they need to be evicted to make way for a few hundred seasonal tourists. https://www.nationalheraldindia.com/india/the-lake-sharks-of-manipur-all-set-to-swallow-loktak-the-largest-freshwater-lake-in-the-ne  (09 April 2021)

Environment Support Group petition demands Wetlands International must withdraw its so-called ‘wise use’ plan for Loktak. https://esgindia.org/new/campaigns/lakes/global-campaign-to-protect-for-posterity-the-unique-loktak-wetland-region-in-manipur-india/ (1 Feb 2021)

Other wetland news of Manipur: VanishingLamphelpatstaring at an uncertain future This wetland in the urban area of Imphal West district is spread over about 19.22 sq km and “shrinking”, said experts. For many years, the famous Lamphelpat had been providing its abundant resources and services to the surrounding people. The wetland stores water drained from the Lamphel Reserve Forest and the Nambul River. It brought down the temperature and controlled or mitigated flood by storing the excess water from Nambul River.

Now all these have been affected by uncontrolled anthropogenic activities & negligence. With siltation, human encroachment & dumping of waste materials in the wetland, the Lamphelpat has lost its original glory. Siltation and dumping of waste materials have made it shallower every year and water plants and weeds have wholly covered the wetland suffocating it.

Sources at the Water Resources Dept said development of a 442 sq km water body in Lamphelpat area is in the pipeline. The project with an estimated cost of around Rs 650 crore would be implemented under the Ministry of Jal Shakti with funding from the World Bank. 80 percent of the cost will be borne by the Centre while the remaining 20 percent will be covered by the State Government. http://e-pao.net/epSubPageExtractor.asp?src=news_section.Top_Stories.Top_Stories_2021.Vanishing_Lamphelpat_calls_for_concerted_conservation_efforts_20210104  (4 Jan. 2021)

6. Rajasthan 4,000MW solar plant at Sambhar may spell doom for prized wetland Sambhar Salt Ltd has recently invited expression of interest (EoI) from companies to set up the project. Out of the 58,000 acres the company has, it currently uses only a fraction of 2,500 acres for salt production and a large area can be utilised for solar power generation. As per industry estimates, over 16,000 acres would be required to set up the 4,000MW plant. This would mean setting up solar panels in large swathes of land. It is feared that such a large-scale project on the wetland could wipe out the eco-system with all its genetic diversity.

In the past few years, the archaeological department with assistance from the Centre has spent close to Rs 100 crore to develop Sambhar lake, a Ramsar site, as a tourist destination. Of late, it has also become a destination for film shooting. When reporters contacted Kamlesh Kumar, the chairman and managing director of Hindustan Salt Ltd, the parent company of Sambhar Salt, he said, “Solar plants come under the ‘wise use’ category. That’s why environment clearance is not required. It does not affect the ecosystem.”

Reporters tried to get a response from the forest and environment department. But they said they were unaware of the expression of interest. But officials in the department said that as per wetland guidelines, no permanent structure can be allowed. The Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2016, does not permit ‘any construction of a permanent nature’. Restrictions in wetlands also include setting up of any industry and expansion of existing industries.

Currently, no single entity is responsible for the management of Sambhar lake. But the multi-departmental Sambhar Development Agency, which is awaiting the law department’s approval, is expected to play a key role in protecting the wetland and creating a sustainable model for development for the benefit of local communities. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/jaipur/4000mw-solar-plant-at-sambhar-may-spelldoom-for-prized-wetland/articleshow/88215470.cms  (11 Dec. 2021)

Illegal salt mining threatening Sambhar ecosystem As Sambhar Lake came under the international spotlight for this mass die-off (of birds), another phenomenon drew attention to the lake: rampant illegal salt mining and a shrinking wetland. Salt pans were proliferating and illegal borewells dotted the area, causing a massive degradation of the famous lake.

“Sambhar Lake’s future is totally dependent on the seasonal rivers that flow into it during the monsoon. But now this water is being sucked away before it reaches the lake, causing it to dry up,” says ecologist Harsh Vardhan. Mendha, Rupangarh, Kharain, Khandel and several such streams and rivulets used to recharge the lake. But the farmers in the 7,560 sq.km. catchment area of the lake have built surface embankments across the rivers, obstructing their downstream flow into the lake. They have sunk tubewells along the rivers and laid pipelines to transport water to their fields, choking the rivers and ultimately threatening the wetland ecosystem. https://www.thehindu.com/society/dying-slowly-illegal-salt-mining-is-threatening-the-wetland-ecosystem-of-sambhar-lake/article34167696.ece  (27 March 2021)

70 crows found dead at Sambhar Lake There is concern that the large number of migratory birds that have arrived at the lake this year could get affected by the avian influenza. https://en.gaonconnection.com/bird-flu-outbreak-rajasthan-chicken-crows-poultry-farmers/  (26 Nov. 2021)

7. Jammu & Kashmir Mismanaged flood plan wreaks devastation at Hokera wetland Govt efforts to address the flooding of Srinagar city have caused serious damage to the Hokera Wetland in Kashmir, due to persistent failure to abide by the environmental protection measures set out as preconditions to the project. The excavation of channels aimed at draining excess rainwater has dried up a major portion of the 1,375-hectare wetland. Meanwhile, wildlife officials have reported that around 80% of the excavated material is still lying in the wetland. https://www.thethirdpole.net/en/nature/mismanaged-flood-plan-wreaks-devastation-at-vital-kashmir-wetland/  (25 March 2021)

A channel passing through Hokersar wetland which has been dredged, with excavated material left behind (Image: Athar Parvaiz/The Third Pole)

Another report which is not available online now, mentions that there has been a 266% increase in the area under built up within the traditional floodplain of Jhelum since the 1970s. It is important to mention that the floodplain of Jhelum hosts some of the very important wetlands (like Hokersar, Mirgund, Narkara, Haigam, and Wular to name few prominent ones) which used to act a flood buffers. However, the unplanned urbanization within and around these wetlands has impaired their flood absorption potential thereby increasing the vulnerability of people and infrastructure to floods. http://risingkashmir.com/home/news_description/374373/Wetland-degradation-in-Kashmir-Issues-and-remedies  (31 March 2021)

Another lake, Manasbal lake which is considered as the deepest lake in Kashmir Valley has been facing pollution and encroachment threats. If people are not made aware of the situation and steps are not taken then sooner or later the lake and with it a remarkable source of water and biodiversity would be lost. A well-planned strategy and action plan is required for the conservation & restoration of this lake in Kashmir Himalayas. https://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/opinion/degradation-of-the-deepest-lake/ (12 Apr 2021)

Similarly the Wular Lake, in Bandipora district which is one of Asia’s largest freshwater lakes has shrunk drastically and lost some of its wetland functions in past few decades affecting livelihoods of the fisherfolk community dependent on it.

The lake has suffered due to illegal mining and improper waste management. This has had an impact on the fishing community, spread over more than seventy neighbouring villages, that has relied on the lake for generations. The unfortunate state of the market, an unregulated system of credit and the militarisation of the region have made the fisherfolk even more tangled in a web of poverty. https://caravanmagazine.in/environment/wular-fisherfolk-reckon-dying-lake  (31 Oct. 2021)

Kashmir’s Dying Ramsar Sites Author Azad Hussain takes stock of Ramsar wetland sites in J&K. https://kashmirreader.com/2021/02/03/kashmirs-dying-ramsar-sites/  (03 Feb. 2021)

8. Karnataka Despite restoration order, lakes continue to be threatened The Karnataka Tank Conservation and Development Authority (KTCDA) has been approving the handing over of lakes to corporates, exactly like the way Lake Development Authority (LDA) leased lakes back in 2012. Churning out MoUs based on DPRs lacking application of science and social praxis and delays in implementing earlier orders have been brought to the attention of the High court. Under the Public Trust Doctrine, lakes are common property resources. Those who are at the intersection of power, influence and finance have an advantage over those who protected and used the lakes.

Mostly, it is about monopolising control over these commons, dodging the law, the order of the court and thereby of capturing the few natural living resource-landscapes of cities. Besides taking control, which means they get to decide who can use them to fish, harvest lilies or watch birds, they also get to decide many administrative issues relating to the use and upkeep of lakes – aspects that were under the control of local communities and local government.

This obviously means preserving biodiversity for posterity and long-term water security will be in the hands of those with power and influence, and access to agency – the elite. Access to and availability of common property resources for the poor will not only decline, that right may go on to be annihilated. Efforts by state agencies seem to miss the point that public expenditure in the model of ‘lake development’ now pursued will only result in public money being poured down the drain, with no benefit in terms of protection of lake, their biodiversity and their capacity to support livelihoods, for now and into posterity. https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/main-article/despite-order-on-restoration-lakes-continue-to-be-threatened-936427.html  (08 Jan. 2020)

Karnataka has no wetlands, Ramsar site At least 16-17 % area of Karnataka are potential wetlands, but the State hasn’t got a single wetland under Ramsar convention. No initiative has been taken to declare important wetlands, highlighting the negligible protection for rich biodiversity.

The state wetland committee is not even notified as recommended by Wetlands rules 2017. Besides, government bodies have been unable to convince locals on what is permitted and prohibited, once an area is declared as wetlands. Forest officials point out that in most cases, ministers and government departments are also not convinced on the ecological responsibilities that follow declaration of rivers, lakes and sites as wetlands.  Officials say that they had proposed 8 sites to be declared as wetlands, and Ranganthittu in Mandya as a Ramsar site. https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/karnataka/2021/feb/12/too-hot-to-handle-officially-karnataka-has-no-wetlands-ramsar-site-2262881.html  (12 Feb. 2021)   

Officials in the KTCDA said that the delay in the identification of boundaries and stormwater drains will lead to the death of these water bodies. Credit: DH Photo

Only 30% lakes free from encroachment As per data from KTCDA obtained under RTI, out of 39179 lakes covering 6.8 lakh acres, no survey has happened in 22170 lakes covering 3.85 lakh acres. Of those surveyed, 7136 lakes were found to have encroachment to the extent of 30507 acres. Leo Saldhana of ESG says: “There is an urgent need to decentralise the process of lake protection and development work in which civil society has to be involved. Officials at the municipal and district level should be given training in this regard.” On June 15 HC had ordered formation of district level committees. U V Singh, former head of the LDA suggested that the HC must monitor the matter. https://www.deccanherald.com/state/top-karnataka-stories/only-30-of-karnataka-lakes-free-from-encroachment-1041566.html  (18 Oct. 2021)

9. Bihar Biggest lake left high & dry despite Ramsar tag Kanwar (Kabar) lake, Asia’s largest freshwater oxbow lake and Bihar’s only Ramsar site, located in Begusarai district, is facing threat of running dry. Unrestrained encroachment of land and construction of embankment on Burhi Gandak river near Majhaul village of Begusarai have choked the major water inlet to the wetland. “Excessive use of groundwater for irrigation in the protected area has taken a toll on the rich biodiversity of the lake and created a kind of climate crisis in the region,” says Ashok Ghosh, chairman of Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB).

Ghosh, who carried out a research on biodiversity of the lake, said size of the wetland has reduced considerably over the last few decades owing to encroachment by individuals and dumping of municipal waste. “I have seen the lake spread over around 7,000 hectares in 1986, which has now been reduced to a little over 2500 hectares,” he said.

Water resources minister Sanjay Kumar Jha said the department would assess the situation and take corrective steps. “Engineers would be asked to see how the natural outflow of Burhi Gandak could be restored,” Jha said. Dipak Kumar Singh, principal secretary of forest and environment, said, “Nearly 3,000 hectares out of the total 6,700 hectares covered by the lake are said to be private holding. The department would soon come out with a comprehensive plan to protect and develop the wetland,” said Singh. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/patna-news/bihars-biggest-lake-left-high-and-dry-despite-ramsar-tag-101617208132502-amp.html  (31 March 2021)

The water level in the lake has reduced and heavy siltation and eutrophication have set in, causing the death of other organisms. The depth of water in the lake is now only a few meters and hence, the wetland has almost been converted into marshland. Image Text source:- https://www.2ghumakkar.com/kanwar-lake-the-asias-largest-oxbow-lake/

While the declaration of Kabar lake as the state’s first Ramsar site enthused the bird watchers and eco lovers, there has been a growing discontent among farmers living in surrounding areas of the lake, who think they are devoid of their farming rights and other related activities in the lake area.

Ram Jiwan Singh, former Union agriculture minister said there has always been two streams of thought on the issue. “The first is to develop the entire notified area of the bird sanctuary to sustain the local eco bio-diversity and another is to contain the bird sanctuary area to about 2,000 acres of land and develop the site as ‘krishi-cum-pakshi vihar”, he said.

“As per the 1901 survey of land, the total taal area is about 15,000 acres. However, with the water level receding in the Gandak over a period of time, farming activities in 16 villages have taken the hit. The state government notified the entire taal area as the bird sanctuary, but the land compensation issue is yet to be resolved,” he added. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/patna/kabar-lakes-ramsar-site-tag-fails-to-enthuse-farmers/articleshow/79630498.cms  (09 Dec. 2020)

10. Uttar Pradesh Dhanauri in dire need of conservation Even as the wetland conservation is being discussed for several years now, what is speedily developing near Dhanauri is a roadway which is supposed to provide connectivity to the YEIDA residential sectors with Greater Noida, and could in future also indicate a heavy traffic flow within a kilometer of the Sarus habitat.

According to environmentalist and birder Anand Arya, the road was initially planned through the wetland area until the issue was highlighted and the road shifted away to a distance. Arya has been for over five years seeking legal protection and conservation of the wetland and pressing on the need for the conservation of the area as a protected Sarus Sanctuary. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/noida/why-dhanauri-is-in-dire-need-of-conservation/articleshow/80319897.cms  (18 Jan. 2021) 

The Asian Waterbird Census-2021, painted a grim picture of Dhanauri wetland — only seven Sarus cranes were spotted suggesting a drastic drop in the overall bird population. Ironically, the wetland – yet to be recognised by the government as a wetland and awaiting protection for the several years – had been proposed to be declared as a Sarus crane sanctuary and a Ramsar site or a wetland of international importance in 2017 by the district forest department.

Located at Dankaur in Greater Noida, the wetland sprawls over 101.21 ha, of which about 33 ha was under water, as per a remote sensing exercise in 2015. However, as per 2021 survey, the wetland has witnessed a more than 4 times drop in its overall bird population since 2020. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/noida-news/with-drastic-drop-in-bird-population-waterbird-census-paints-a-grim-picture-of-dhanauri-wetland-101611682884988.html (26 Jan 2021)

In April 2021, the Dhanauri wetland ran dry and forest officials tried to fill it using bore wells. The wetland has never dried completely earlier, said the officials and birders. While the forest officials say that they are trying to ascertain the reasons, experts point out mismanagement and exploitation apart from dry weather for the wetland to have run dry. The crane experts state that the mismanagement could lead to migration of the birds.

It is home to about 211 species of waterbirds and is also one of the biggest habitats of sarus crane in the region. In 2019, the forest department had spotted over 80 sarus at Dhanauri out of 140 in the district. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/noida-news/dhanauri-wetland-runs-dry-forest-department-rushes-to-fill-its-core-101618338102732.html  (13 April 2021)

Sarus chick found dead in Dhanauri wetlands A five-month-old sarus crane was found dead at Dhanauri wetland in Gautam Budh Nagar while another Sarus crane was found infected at the same spot on Dec. 25 2021 and is being treated by veterinary officers, said forest officials. Anand Arya, who was among the first to have found the wetland in 2014 and initiated the legal battle for its recognition as a Ramsar site, said that the wetland needs immediate conservation. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/noida-news/fivemonthold-sarus-chick-found-dead-in-dhanauri-wetlands-101640454932492.html  (25 Dec. 2021)

Another adult sarus crane was found dead at Dhanauri wetlands on Wednesday evening ( Dec. 28) five days after a bird of the same breed was found dead and another found unconscious on Dec. 25. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/noida-news/another-sarus-crane-dies-in-dhanauri-wetlands-third-fatality-in-a-week-101640890900831.html  (31 Dec. 2021)

The tragic turn of events has raised questions, the bird-watching community of Noida has been asking for a long time: the safety of birds and the health of Dhanauri wetland. https://www.cityspidey.com/news/16018/death-of-sarus-chicks-raises-questions-about-dhanauri-wetland  (27 Dec. 2021)

Hasanpur lake grapples with waste water, encroachment Spread over 82 ha, the wetland on the Noida-Hapur border at a distance of 28 km from Greater Noida, that is known as the largest natural lake in north India and the largest wetland in NCR, is not even protected. Over fishing and untreated water from nearby villages have been threatening the water body for some time now. Fishermen often burst crackers to keep birds away from the lake. As a result, once a hub of several migratory birds, it hardly has any such visitors now. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/noida/hasanpur-lake-grapples-with-waste-water-encroachment/articleshow/80747853.cms  (08 Feb. 2021)

Surajpur wetland suffers from industrial pollution Domestic and industrial pollution seemed to be taking a toll on the Surajpur wetland as a stream that recharged the lake was covered with an unusual white foam on March 13, 2021. Spread over 308 ha, of which 60 ha is a lake, the wetland is city’s largest reserve forest and one of three major birding hot spots, the others being Okhla Bird Sanctuary and Dhanauri wetland.

 “It’s called Havelia and is a storm water drain that originates in Hapur. On its way, it passes through several industrial areas and is polluted with untreated discharge. The drain then splits with one discharging into Surajpur and the other into Hindon river near Kasna area. It had been polluted for years and getting worse with time,” said Vikrant Tongad, environmentalist. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/noida-news/surajpur-wetland-suffers-from-industrial-pollution-as-foam-seen-over-stream-that-feeds-lake-101615746228681.html (14 Mar 2021)

Other Wetland Reports of 2021

NCR Najafgarh lake fails water quality test A report submitted by Wetland Authority of Delhi (WAD) to NGT says the water quality of Najafgarh lake does not meet the prescribed parameters with respect to pH and DO that will support propagation of wildlife and fish. As the lake falls in both Delhi and Haryana, NGT has directed both governments to ascertain the water quality status.

Najafgarh Drain and Jheel, the longest drainage system of Delhi, became an alternative wetland for the resident and migratory water birds(Vipin Kumar/HT FILE) https://www.hindustantimes.com/delhi-news/delhi-government-mulls-notifying-najafgarh-lake-as-a-wetland-survey-soon/story-Fk01XtwLcXwWoOs5JGTyXO.html

The lake receives a continuous input of sewage from Gurgaon and surrounding villages of Delhi. WAD told NGT that it was awaiting a green signal from MoEF for executing its environment management plan (EMP) for preventing entry of untreated sewage, removal of encroachment and conservation of the waterbody. “According to Wetland Conservation and Management Rules, 2017, in case of trans-boundary wetlands, the central government shall coordinate with the state governments and Union Territory administrations. Delhi government asked MoEF in August this year to clarify if it could go ahead with the execution of EMP or wait for Haryana’s plan,” said the report. Though Delhi had submitted its EMP in Dec 2020, Haryana submitted its plan in Sep 2021. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/najafgarh-lake-fails-water-quality-test-finds-report/articleshow/86922376.cms  (11 Oct. 2021)

Here Neha Sinha tries to unravel the curious conservation case of the Najafgarh drain. https://sustain.round.glass/book/najafgarh-wetland-wasteland/ 

Delhi Wetlands shrinking & dying finds bird survey The urban wetlands in the national capital are shrinking, degrading, disappearing, and dying due to extreme human intervention, misuse or overuse of natural resources, pollution, and modern entertainment activities, finds the Asian Waterbird Census 2021 conducted by Wetlands International.

“The three urban wetlands in the city, namely National Zoological Park wetlands, Sanjay Lake and Yamuna river are degrading, shrinking, dying and losing the natural ecology & biodiversity for sustenance due to lack of ecological conservation and sustainable management by government,” said TK Roy, Ecologist, conservationist, AWC Delhi State Coordinator.

Yamuna’s riverine wetland used to be a rich natural habitat for several aquatic animal species including waterbirds. It has now turned into a polluted sewage-fed black stream, shrinking where public throw garbage and do illegal seasonal veg cultivation on the dry banks, the report said. https://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/delhi/2021/jan/23/delhi-wetlands-shrinking–dying-finds-bird-survey-2254002.html  (23 Jan. 2021)

Review Sanjay Lake plan, says activist Yamuna activist Manoj Mishra on Dec. 28, 2020 wrote to LG Anil Baijal and CM Arvind Kejriwal for a third-party evaluation of the proposed Sanjay Lake View Complex project. Sanjay Lake is the ox-bow waterbody of the Yamuna and located on the river’s previous channel, said Mishra. “Any high rise apartment on it is highly susceptible to damage and destruction from liquefaction in case of a serious earthquake,” Mishra wrote, saying that plans of green buildings and reuse of waste water couldn’t take away the fundamental risks involved in such constructions. “Sanjay Lake requires a restoration plan that secures its catchment for it can’t continue to remain propped up” through groundwater extraction. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/delhi-review-sanjay-lake-plan-says-activist/articleshow/80005086.cms  (29 Dec. 2020)

245 wetlands don’t pass water test: DPCC The water quality report has been shared with 16 water body agencies, which are preparing an action plan for improving the health of wetlands. The Wetland Authority of Delhi has listed 1,040 wetlands and has allotted unique identification numbers to them. Of these, action plans for conservation of wetlands have been prepared for around 600 wetlands. Media had earlier reported that Delhi currently does not have a single notified waterbody. An official said the wetland authority would send recommendations to the state government for notification of waterbodies by March 2022 and the final notification process is expected to be completed by June 2022. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/245-wetlands-in-delhi-dont-pass-water-test-dpcc/articleshow/86150957.cms  (13 Sept. 2021)

Himachal Pradesh Migratory birds continue to die With the inexplicable death of migratory water fowls continuing to rise in Pong Dam Lake, authorities closed the wetland to both locals and tourists. Over 1,000 birds of different species mysteriously died since the first deaths were reported on Dec 28, 2020. Preliminary post mortem reports ruled out poisoning. Forest minister Rakesh Pathania ordered a probe into the matter.

A dead bar-headed goose in the Pong Dam Lake. Officials say the birds exhibited an inability to take off despite having healthy wings before succumbing.(HT Photo)

The Pong Dam Wetland—an International Ramsar Site— hosts more than 1 lakh migratory birds of over 100 species, that fly thousands of kilometers from the trans-Himalayan Region and Central Asia Flyway (CAF) in winter every year. The Pong Dam Lake, constructed on the Beas river in 1960, was declared a bird sanctuary in 1983 and given the status of the wetland of national importance in 1994. In 2002, it got the status of a Ramsar site. Last year, 1.15 lakh birds of 114 species were spotted on the wetland. The bar-headed geese are most plentiful in Pong. https://www.hindustantimes.com/chandigarh/migratory-birds-continue-to-die-officials-shut-hp-s-pong-wetland/story-UGOFoemLxmdZr8S0vvqmdO.html (3 Jan. 2021)

https://himachalwatcher.com/2020/12/30/migratory-bird-deaths-in-pong-dam-wetland/ (30 Dec 2020)

https://indianexpress.com/article/india/himachal-over-400-migratory-birds-found-dead-at-pong-dam-lake-7126828/  (31 Dec. 2020)

West Bengal Sundarbans rare species threatened In Indian Sundarbans, conversion of shoreline mangroves to shrimp farms and other pisciculture farms is very popular and it is the main source of income for the local people. However, these livelihoods come at the cost of frequent clearing of the shorelines once occupied by native mangrove species.

The continued loss of shoreline mangrove ecosystems has created fragmented and fragile mangrove habitats for rare taxa and framed barriers to their movement and dispersal. (Wikimedia Commons/TIE)

Thus, the habitats of many species continue to be reclaimed for shrimp culture, in spite of knowing that mangrove destruction could also be counter-productive, as the shrimp industry depends on various ecological services provided by the mangrove ecosystem in order to maintain its continued productivity. https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/expert-explains-rare-species-sundarbans-threatened-by-human-activities-7527840/  (23 Sept. 2021)

Disappearing wetlands, pesticide use a threaten birds Environmentalists have blamed two factors for this — decrease in the number of wetlands and extreme usage of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Due to constant exposure to chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the paddy fields and also in the vast tea belt of the region, both migratory as well as domestic birds have suffered a sharp decline in their numbers, they said.

According to satellite pictures available, the number of wetlands in Cooch Behar and Malda has been reduced to less than half their number in the 1930s. In Jalpaiguri, North Dinajpur and South Dinajpur their number has reduced to less than one-third. If this trend continues, no natural wetland will remain in north Bengal. Floods would occur frequently and it will also result in arsenic contamination, which is already posing a problem for people in Malda. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/disappearing-wetlands-pesticide-use-threaten-bird-population-in-n-bengal-experts/articleshow/86518005.cms  (26 Sept. 202)

Gujarat Nalsarovar dirtiest but most vital wetland In its report prepared for the Rs 905 crore Japan International Cooperation Agency fund for ecosystem restoration, the Forest department mentions that the Nalsarovar site is the worst polluted, and worst affected because of poaching and suffers from high infestation of invasive species. The department claims that Nalsarovar suffers major management issues which include, “terrestrialization, higher anthropogenic pressures — pollution, poaching, fishing — and higher dependency of local community on its natural resources.”

One of the five most vulnerable tribal communities of the state –the ‘Padhar’ — live in peripheral villages of Nalsarovar and they depend heavily on the resources of Nalsarovar for their day to day livelihood. Apart from this, the Ramsar wetland also faces major issues, and challenges for management include garbage, uncontrolled growth of reeds and weed, growth of Prosopis juliflora on the fringes of the wetland, poaching of birds, paucity of funds and staff for effective management. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/nalsarovar-dirtiest-wetland-in-gujarat-but-most-vital/articleshow/85162614.cms  (9 Aug. 2021)

Avian migrants deterred due to high water level at Nalsarovar The officials said that high water levels at Nalsarovar have deterred greater and lesser flamingos from flocking to the tourism zone for the second year. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/ahmedabad/avian-migrants-diverted-flights-from-abad/articleshow/83558475.cms  (16 June 2021)  

Meghalaya 43% of waterbodies polluted Govt baseline study under Community Led Landscapes Management Project (CLLMP) through World Bank support was conducted in 71 villages selected through random sampling across the state’s three regions i.e. Garo Hills, Khasi Hills and Jaintia Hills had a sample size of 11690 households with a population of 64783.

On average 10 water bodies are found per village, with the highest numbers found in the Khasi region followed by the Jaintia and Garo regions suggesting that conservation and preservation of water bodies and the immediate surrounding will greatly benefit the communities. On average 43% of water bodies are polluted. The highest percentage of pollution is found in the Jaintia region followed by Khasi and Garo regions. The figure is alarming for a small state. It was found that 21% of water bodies are used for domestic purposes and 15% are used for irrigation. https://www.indiawaterportal.org/article/43-percent-water-bodies-meghalaya-are-polluted  (01 May 2021)

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

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