WWD 2023: India’s Wetlands continue to face Rising Threats and Misgovernance

(Feature Image: Giri tal of Kashipur, Uttarakhand succumbing to govt’s apathy. Bhim Singh Rawat/SANDRP Nov. 2022.)

World Wetlands Day is celebrated every year on February 2. The theme for year 2023 is Wetlands Restoration. Marking the occasion, SANDRP has been presenting annual overviews on various governance aspects of wetlands in India including general scenario, governments’ plans, judicial interventions and positive efforts to save these crucial eco-systems. This first part of the 2023 series covers the overall situation of wetlands in the country in 2022. The reports show that the wetlands continue to face rising threats and misgovernance.

1. Maharashtra Navi Mumbai: Wetlands panels have failed: committee member Environmentalist D Stalin, a member of the Bombay high court-appointed wetlands grievance redressal committee, has written a stinging letter to the panel head, the Konkan division commissioner, that both the wetlands and mangroves protection committees have failed to resolve cases of eco damages due to non-compliance from various state departments. Stalin, who is also the director of Vanashakti NGO, stated that the wetlands and mangroves panels should stop trying to resolve complaints and fully update the high court that various state authorities are not cooperating in order to get closure reports for various environmental issues regarding wetlands and mangroves.

“The Wetlands Grievance Redressal Committee and the Mangroves protection committee have failed to restore a single site that was degraded or reclaimed. Complaints have been steadily increasing. The corporations, and urban bodies which were directed to restore the degraded sites have consistently lied and refused to perform their duty,” Stalin stated while addressing the Konkan division commissioner, Vilas Patil. Stalin said: “It is frustrating to be a part of the high court appointed committees, yet not be able to restore the damaged or reclaimed wetlands and mangroves although the panels do have the power to pull up officials for non-compliance. I have also mentioned in my letter that the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Managing Authority (MCZMA) has not attended a single meeting of our panels in the last six years, while the MPCB has only attended a few. With such casual approach by various agencies, it is leading to piling up of more complaints with us, but no closure or final solution.” https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/hc-apppointed-panels-have-failed-to-protect-wetlands-mangroves/articleshow/90694645.cms  (7 April 2022)

He added that only the state forest department, has actively responded to the panel meetings and directions; while various civic bodies and other departments have remained inactive to the problems at hand. “The details of the cases showing dereliction of duty need to be submitted on affidavit to the hon’ble high court. We will need to appraise the court on the true state of affairs. Unless we do that, we should consider ourselves also as being in contempt of the court orders,” wrote Stalin.

Environmentalist B N Kumar of NatConnect Foundation reacted by saying: “Several of the mangroves and wetlands committees’ orders have been ignored by the concerned officials – from Cidco to PWD. For instance, we have been complaining about destruction of mangroves along the Sion-Panvel highway for the past three and half years; but PWD officials did not respond. So the complaints went in the pending stack. We have been losing mangroves & wetlands particularly in biodiversity rich Uran with no action from any of the officials despite the HC committees setting deadlines that no one follows,” Kumar regretted. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/navi-mumbai/navi-mumbai-wetlands-and-mangroves-panels-have-failed-committee-member-writes-to-chief/articleshow/90669456.cms (5 Apr 2022)

2. Rajasthan Dist collectors fail to identify & notify wetlands Conservation of wetlands have taken a backseat as majority of the district administrations has failed to implement the directions issued by the state wetland authority. On Oct 20, 2021, the authority directed to speed up identification and verification of wetlands and prepare the proposals for notification. However, majority of the district collectors in the state continue to sit on the directions. An official said, “27 district collectors have not sent the proposals. Only 6 collectors – Udaipur, Banswara, Pali, Dungarpur, Chittorgarh, and Bhilwara – have acted on the directions.”

The authority also directed 6 departments and district collectors to prepare and update the inventory of natural/artificial wetlands within a month. However, none of the department has submitted any report till date. Sources said Rajasthan should take these directions seriously as the area of natural lakes and ponds in the state has shrunk by 844 ha between 2006-07 and 2017-18 as per the ‘National Wetland Decadal Change Atlas’. An official said in Rajasthan wetlands cover 2.3 % of the total geographical area. Dominant wetland classes are river/ streams, reservoir/barrages & tank/ponds, covering 86% of total wetland area in the state during 2017-18. As per the report, the area of lakes and ponds covered 42,129 ha in 2006-18, now reduced to 41,285 ha. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/jaipur/dist-collectors-fail-to-act-in-identifying-and-notifying-wetlands/articleshow/91136187.cms (28 Apr 2022)

3. Delhi No legal tag for any wetlands The Wetlands authority of Delhi has failed to notify any wetlands as protected area a year after identifying 20 wetlands and declaring intention to declare 4 wetlands as protected areas. 1040 wetlands were identified for restoration in Delhi in August 2021. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/in-troubled-waters-a-year-on-no-legal-tag-for-any-wetland/articleshow/96325786.cms  (19 Dec. 2022)

According to an RTI, only eight wetlands have been notified across the country since the 2017 wetland rules were notified. Delhi, too, aims to notify 1,040 wetlands and 10 have been prioritised, but none has been notified yet. Experts, however, said they were still hopeful for the conservation of the wetlands in the city. Officials said it was yet to be ascertained how many wetlands in Delhi have been encroached upon. “Wetlands are often neglected. Only after the notification, the entire exercise of the determination of illegal constructions or encroachment can be carried out,” said environmentalist and lawyer Akash Vashistha. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/man-made-hurdles-delay-notification-of-city-wetlands/articleshow/89283887.cms  (2 Feb. 2022)

Most of the water bodies in Delhi, including prominent lakes such as Bhalswa, Sanjay Van and Hauz Khas lakes, require considerable attention to protect and preserve them, said many biodiversity experts. Attending a webinar on biodiversity parks, held by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) to celebrate World Wetlands Day, experts also suggested ways to ensure revival of the such water bodies. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/delhi-news/city-wetlands-need-urgent-care-101643830417602.html (3 Feb 2022) NHRC takes serious view of disappearing water bodies in Delhi; issues notices to the Govt & DDA. https://nhrc.nic.in/media/press-release/nhrc-takes-serious-view-disappearing-water-bodies-national-capital-issues  (03 March 2022)

4. Madhya Pradesh Low notification of wetlands While wetlands in MP have been identified for conservation, to make them Ramsar contenders for the future, except for one, no wetland has officially been notified. “Govt’s effort needs to move in the right direction with the right motives. The state govt hasn’t notified a single wetland under Wetland Rules 2017. It claims to have notified only one Ramsar Site, Upper Lake (Bhoj Wetland), but that too has been challenged in the court,” said environment activist Subhash Pandey, who has filed the petition challenging the notification of Upper Lake in the Jabalpur High Court. The Wetland Rules related to notification clearly states that a public hearing is a must before notification, but the govt intentionally bypassed the process to benefit some people, alleged Pandey.

Sirpur wetland of Indore is full of weeds and lying in a neglected state. Photo courtesy Bhalu Mondhe/Mongabay India.

A retired IFS and wetland expert Sudesh Waghamare said that the govts do not take an active interest in the notification of the wetlands as they open a Pandora’s Box of controversies. “Notification leads to the demarcation of the boundaries of the wetlands besides regulating the activities in and around the wetlands. People linked with wetlands for their livelihoods, including farmers and fishermen, are affected. They are vote banks of politicians; therefore, political leaders create hurdles in demarcating the boundary or regulating the activities around wetlands,” said Waghamare.

Big chunks of land near the Bhoj wetland area have been sold to influential people or those in power. Had the notification been done and the zone of influence demarcated, these deals would have been impossible, alleged Waghmare. “Govt acquired 16 acres of agricultural land for Bhojpal Wetland (around two decades ago). The govt provided us compensation, but the officials said that we could cultivate our land when the water level is low, but now we are not allowed to. Farmers were beaten by the police when they tried to do so,” said a farmer from Eitkhedi village (located on the boundary of Bhoj wetland), Veer Singh Thakur. https://india.mongabay.com/2023/01/madhya-pradesh-fails-to-notify-a-single-wetland-a-hurdle-in-conservation/  (11 Jan. 2023)

5. Tamil Nadu Wetlands on sticky wicket In the state Budget, the state wetland authority (TNSWA) was allotted Rs 100 crore, but before work begins on the ground its first challenge is to convince other govt departments to give the go ahead. Till now, water bodies in TN were managed by the water resources department, which is under the public works department (PWD). In 2021, the state wetlands authority became functional and was ready to take over the responsibility of wetlands, which are unique biodiverse areas, which may be flooded with water permanently or seasonally. The power tussle is between these two, say sources.

Work has to begin with classification of a priority wetland, which will ensure protection under the Wildlife Act. At present, overfishing, encroachments, illegal sewage disposal, solid waste dumping and unscientific restoration projects are major threats to lakes, all of which would become an offence if the lakes are notified. A recent study by the Madras Institute of Development Studies stated that the ecological value of all the resources of nearly 80 priority wetlands in the state is more than Rs 17,000 crore per annum. And it would need just Rs 203 crore to restore them. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/why-tamil-nadu-wetlands-are-on-a-sticky-wicket/articleshow/91137469.cms  (28 April 2022)

Alien mussel species invade Ennore wetlands Eleven of 52 fishing sites in Ennore have been infested by an alien mussel species, wiping out valuable fisher resources like locally prevalent yellow clams (manja matti) and green mussels (pachai aazhi). Identified as ‘Mytella strigata’ or Charru mussels native to South America the mussels threaten to spread their tentacles into the ecologically sensitive Pulicat lake, which attracts migratory birds annually.

Around 11 of 52 fishing sites in Ennore infested by an invasive mussel species native to South America. Express

The mussels have now spread & carpeted over 6 km of the river bed, preventing prawns from grazing or burying themselves in the river sediment. Fishers and activists suspect unchecked discharge of ballast waters from ships visiting the Kattupalli ports may have resulted in the spread. Responding to this allegation, Tamil Nadu State Wetland Authority Deepak Srivastava said the wetland catchment and drainage system need to be studied to fix accountability. “An integrated management plan will be prepared to address the livelihood loss.”

A few years ago, Kerala too reported damage due to the spread of this species. Surveys found the presence of the Charru mussel in the state’s backwaters, including Kadinamkulam, Paravur & Ponnani. Gradually, Ashtamudi Lake a Ramsar site in Kollam was deemed the worst hit. Here, the mussel replaced the Asian green mussel & the oyster ‘Magallana bilineata’. https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/tamil-nadu/2022/dec/28/alien-mussel-species-invade-ennore-wetlands-fishers-livelihood-on-line-in-tamil-nadu-2532387.html (28 Dec 2022)

6. Jammu & Kashmir Wetlands shrunk by 2372 kanal in 10 years: GoI report Over 120 ha (2373 kanal) of wetland were lost in J&K between 2006-07 and 2017-18, according to a report by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation-GoI. The total number of wetlands decreased from 404 in 2006-07 to 403 in 2017-18. The total area of wetlands came down from 1,64,230 ha in 2006-07 to 1,64,110 ha in 2017-18. The main factors are excessive habitat destruction, pollution & human interference. https://www.greaterkashmir.com/todays-paper/front-page/jk-wetlands-shrunk-by-2372-kanal-in-10-years-goi-report  (9 Oct. 2022)

Dal Lake faces existential threat The lake is facing an existential crisis and witnessing illegal construction, an investigation found out. The govt has failed to stop these illegal constructions. Although the govt has been saying that there is no encroachment in the water body, the situation on the ground is entirely different.

An official from the J&K Lake Conservation and Management Authority (LCMA) said that the lack of manpower in the wing that oversees illegal constructions has affected its working. Assistant Professor at the Dept of Environmental Sciences, University of Kashmir Samiullah Bhat said that multiple factors including encroachments had been affecting the ecology & led to the shrinking of Dal Lake over the years.  https://www.greaterkashmir.com/todays-paper/front-page/gk-investigation-as-famed-dal-lake-faces-existential-threat-illegal-construction-galore-in-water-bodys-interiors  (3 Nov 2022)

Migratory birds leaving earlier amid warmer temperatures Owing to warmer temperatures and decreased precipitation in Kashmir in 2022 winter, migratory birds have started leaving the Himalayan valley early this year. Wildlife officials say that there has been a marginal decrease in the number of migratory birds this year, compared to last winter, as there has been a dip in rain and snowfall.

The wetlands in the valley had seen large-scale poaching of migratory birds during the early years of militancy. However, now vigilance has been stepped up and encroachments on wetlands have also come down to a large extent. The wildlife department has also established control rooms to stop poaching of birds. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/chandigarh-news/migratory-birds-leaving-kashmir-earlier-this-year-amid-warmer-temperatures-101645041322366.html  (17 Jan. 2022)

Dredging work adversely affecting Hokersar wetlands eco-system. Athar Parvaiz/The Third Pole

Athar Parvaiz: There is no lack of expert opinion on how to conserve wetlands in Kashmir, or other parts of India, but recommendations are rarely followed and often flouted. https://www.thethirdpole.net/en/nature/recommendations-galore-but-are-they-benefitting-himalayan-wetlands/  (16 Aug. 2022)

7. Hyderabad Ameenpur lake shrinking due to encroachments Ameenpur lake, once sprawling across 300 acres has now shrunk to just 93 acres, witnessing hundreds of encroachments eating away its buffer zone and full tank level over the last three decades. According to the latest data from the SPCB, there are around 900 encroachments identified on the lake. The latest historical satellite imagery displayed during the presentation showed the rapid decline of the water body from 1985 to 2022.

Activists rue that a private road that has been built dividing the lake into two parts has given an ugly look to the water body. “The road got its legal sanction by the court but it certainly has affected the lake in a big way as many birds, mostly flamingos that usually nest during the winter had drastically reduced. They have chosen to move away to other water bodies that are less impacted by urbanisation,” Ravi Chander, a social activist said. The lake needs to have a large chunk of its encroachments removed to ensure that it doesn’t flood the residences built on its full tank level.

The 440-year-old man-made lake was declared as Telangana’s first water body to be recognised Biodiversity Heritage Site by the state govt as it was built during the Ibrahim Qutb Shah period, who ruled the kingdom of Golconda during 1550-1580 & is surrounded by beautiful rock formations. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/birds-paradise-lost-in-hyderabad-squatters-usurp-shangri-la/articleshow/96098600.cms (9 Dec 2022)

Mundikunta lake shrinks to 4 acres  Mundikunta Lake is now one of the fastest shrinking lakes in Hi Tech City due to the extensive construction activity and sewage discharge. Currently, the lake is left with a four acre area with a bund splitting it into two and construction of residential buildings are enveloping it. The sewage water from the residential buildings near Gachibowli-Miyapur Road also flows into the lake while the water inflows from nearby Nerella Lake has been disconnected. On the other hand, most of the Mundikunta lake stands as a dry patch of land with several trees uprooted and two patches of sewerage water stagnated on either side of the bund that divided the lake remains.

Residents, who have been fighting against the alleged encroachments by private builders since 2015, managed to get the lake fenced outside the road. “In recent weeks, we have been noticing construction activity intensifying on the lake bed and we have alerted the revenue officials and the town planning wing of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corp (GHMC),” Mani Rao, a resident of Meenakshi Towers situated near the lake said. Residents now demand that the revenue dept resurvey the lake area and take down all the construction work taking place around the lake. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/mundikunta-lake-shrinks-to-4-acres-as-grabbers-effluents-choke-waterbody-in-telangana/articleshow/96411788.cms  (22 Dec. 2022)

City Lakes Drying Up According to the latest report of the SPCB, 30 of the city’s 185 lakes were reported to have gone dry in August, with two lakes identified as encroached and the other two as non-existent. Lakes in Shaikpet, Kukatpally, Medchal-Malkajgiri & Qutubullapur were the most affected.

Environmentalists voiced concerns about water bodies drying up or becoming non-existent, citing encroachment as the primary cause. “The city has received excess rainfall up to 35% this year and at least twice it has witnessed flood in this monsoon, then how come we have deserts within the city,” wondered B.V.Subba Rao, technical member of Water Domain, Bureau of Indian Standards. The main factors of lakes drying up are diversion and blocking of inflow rainwater from the lakes, encroachment on lake areas, and breaking of the surplus weir that holds water in the lakes, he stated. https://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/in-other-news/231222/city-lakes-drying-up-experts-say-critical-times-ahead.html  (26 Dec. 2022)

8. Uttar Pradesh Govt Builds University in Suraha Tal Wetlands In blatant defiance of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, Wetlands (Conservation & Management) Rules, 2017, Suraha Tal Eco-Sensitive Zone Notification 2019, National Mission for Clean Ganga Notification 2016, the Uttar Pradesh Govt has allowed and funded construction of a college in core zone of Suraha Tal wetlands, a notified bird sanctuary in Balia Dist.  https://sandrp.in/2022/05/21/uttar-pradesh-govt-builds-university-in-suraha-tal-wetlands/  (21 May 2022)

Water logged JNCU campus in Oct. 2021. Source: Amar Ujala

Instead of protecting the notified bird sanctuary, the govt has not only allowed conversion of memorial trust into university campus but also funded various kinds of infrastructures inside Suraha Tal’s ESZ. The waterlogging during and after the monsoon in 2019 and 2021 has severely affected about 60 acre of wetlands area mostly under JNCU occupation. The flooding has also damaged University infrastructure, furniture and disrupted academic sessions for months. https://thedialogue.co.in/article/C7AOFuu7D3wgHAvQOyzs/up-govt-accused-of-destroying-wetlands-for-university-named-on-freedom-fighter-chandrashekhar-  (23 May 2022) Mongabay India has also filed a story on Suraha tal issue in English and Hindi. https://india.mongabay.com/2022/05/how-a-bird-sanctuarys-survival-is-being-threatened/  / https://hindi.mongabay.com/2022/05/20/how-a-bird-sanctuarys-survival-is-being-threatened/  (20 May 2022)

Uttar Pradesh YEIDA earmarks 25 ha for Dhanauri wetland protection According to officials, a total of 20 hectares of the wetland will be protected by the YEIDA while 4.5 hectares will be earmarked for villagers’ use. A 50-metre-wide green belt will also be developed along a 100-metre road passing through the area, forest officials said.

Birder Anand Arya, who was present in the meeting, however, has expressed concern about the YEIDA plan. Credited for identifying the birding site in 2014, Arya said, “In 2017, the Supreme Court had granted protection to all wetlands which are over 2.3 hectares. But the Dhanauri wetland is spread across 150 hectares. This (25 hectares) area is located where the surface water is visible, but the wetland is not just this. It also comprises the marshland adjoining it and the entire ecosystem. I have pointed all these concerns during the meeting.”

Currently, the wetland’s boundary has not been defined and the State Wetland Authority is yet to extend protection to Dhanauri under the Wetland Conservation and Management Rules, 2017. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/noida/yeida-earmarks-25-hectares-for-wetland-protection-in-dhanauri/articleshow/89602156.cms  (16 Feb. 2022)

YEIIDA chairman issued a NOC to notify 112 hectares in Dhanauri village as a wetland, paving the way for the marshes, better known as one of the largest sarus crane habitats in the state, to be listed under the Ramsar Convention. https://www.deccanherald.com/national/west/flamingos-face-twin-dangers-of-water-pollution-wetland-burial-1116960.html  (10 June 2022)

Although identified as a wetland by environmentalists in 2014, the district forest department sent a proposal to the UP government in January to declare Dhanauri as a “Ramsar” site. It is yet to get a formal response. Forest department officials this week reiterated that the process of notification has already begun.

Among the problems concerned citizens foresee is the possibility of rampant concretization in vicinity of the wetland. “Private players just 2km from here are acquiring lands. Concretisation will further reduce its chances of survival for long,” said Harsh Vardhan, a birder and the grandson of Jaipal Singh Pradhan. Dr Patar also pointed out that Dhanauri is a land-locked area. “So any development work will be done from all sides. Even the construction of high-rises can affect migratory birds and any large settlements can impact ground water levels,” he said. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/noida/a-wetland-waits-for-conservation-so-do-youths-in-villages-around-it/articleshow/90341649.cms  (21 March 2022)

Following a birder approaching the Supreme Court and NGT, legal notices have been sent to MoEF and UP govt for protection of Dhanuari wetland. Anand Arya, who sent the notice on Jan 21, 2023, said in it: “It is my considered opinion that not notifying Dhanauri and other wetlands is a serious dereliction of statutory duty leading to criminal breach of trust on part of the officials concerned. They must be punished for delaying legal protection of these wetlands.”

– In an October 2017 order, the Supreme Court had directed that 201,503 wetlands (including Dhanauri) mapped by the union government should be protected under Rule 4 of the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010. In a March 8, 2022 office memorandum, the MoEFCC reiterated the apex court’s order and stated that this protection is irrespective of the applicability of/notification as per the Wetland Rules, 2017.

– “Data regarding the notification of new wetlands could not be found for any state except for Goa in the Indian wetlands portal. In 2021, six lakes in Goa were notified as wetlands. This shows that even though the number of Ramsar wetlands in India has increased, efforts to notify wetlands under the rules are lacking,” lawyer Ritwick Dutta said. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/delhi-news/dhanauri-wetland-notices-to-centre-uttar-pradesh-over-ramsar-tag-101674500937119.html   (24 Jan. 2023)

West Bengal Most policy & decision makers cannot recognise wetland plants Water is not the right visual cue of a wetland. Its typical plant forms or hydrophytic vegetation are, such as the tall grass like reeds. But most wetland policymakers or decision-takers cannot recognise wetland plants.

Under the Calcutta High Court’s directive, a group of ‘experts’ from environment and biodiversity-related government bodies had once visited the Dankuni wetlands. Conservationists had lodged a legal petition to protect Dankuni from encroachment. It was summer and one of them asked, “This is all dry. How can this be a wetland?” When conservationists reasoned that a wetland can have an ephemeral presence of water, they asked whether Calcutta can be called a wetland by that logic since it is flooded during the monsoon! The stretches of reed beds in the wetland, its most prominent visual cue, did not impress upon their minds. Neither did a report from the Indian Statistical Institute testifying that Dankuni has water-saturated soil. The ministry’s own guidelines identify saturated soil and hydrophytic vegetation as the most important characteristic features of a wetland. After a decade-long fight by the litigants, the National Green Tribunal, in a landmark judgment, declared Dankuni to be a wetland this year and asked all wetlands in W Bengal above 2.5 ha to be identified and included in the national wetland inventory. The world acknowledges that wetlands are central to achieving the sustainable development goals. Why then does it take so long to recognise a wetland? https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/the-ramsar-pledge-special-emphasis-on-protecting-small-wetlands/cid/1910327  (17 Jan. 2023)

9. Uttarakhand Giri Taal: A Glorious Waterbody Succumbing to Neglect The Giri Taal in Kashipur town of Udham Singh Nagar district, Uttarakhand is yet another text book example of how a rich water resource has gradually been succumbing to unplanned development and official neglect. This short pictorial report after a brief visit to the Taal tries to highlight its socio-ecological values and the threats the water body is facing. As per National Wetland Atlas 2011 out of total 2,912 sqkm geographical area of the US Nagar district 6.90 % (20,099 ha) is under wetland which is highest in the state. https://sandrp.in/2022/11/25/photo-blog-giri-taal-of-kashipur-a-glorious-waterbody-succumbing-to-neglect/  (25 Nov. 2022)

10. Haryana Basai wetlands: An oasis in the heart of a concrete jungle At a stone’s throw from the glitzy malls of the Millennium City, the 250-acre shallow wetland has shrunk to a quarter of its original size over the years. Home to 300-plus species of rare, common and migratory birds, Basai is recognised as a key biodiversity area by the IUCN, the Wildlife Institute of India and the BirdLife International, a global network of NGOs that work to protect bird habitats. But for the town planners, urbanisation is out of sync with environment and the Haryana govt is yet to declare the site a protected refuge for birds. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/basai-wetlands-an-oasis-in-the-heart-of-a-concrete-jungle/article38389774.ece  (07 Feb. 2022)

Other Relevant Reports

ISRO Major loss to natural coastal wetlands since 2006-07 1,342 wetlands covering an area of 25000 ha disappeared in 2017-18, according to an atlas titled “Space-based observation of Indian Wetlands” prepared by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)’s Space Applications Centre. According to the atlas, which was released on Feb 2 2022, the total wetland area increased by 0.64 mha compared to the inventory of 2006-07. There are 231 195 wetlands in India, it said.

Natural coastal wetlands lost around 73,961 ha over a decade. 116,897 ha loss is related to intertidal mudflats and 5647 ha to salt marshes. There was a loss of 6,557 ha in natural inland waterlogged areas also. The gains are mostly in man-made wetlands.

Tamil Nadu (11.6%), Maharashtra (11.2%), Andhra Pradesh (10.4%), Uttar Pradesh (8%), and Gujarat (7.6%) have the highest number of wetlands. The area coverage with wetlands is highest in Gujarat (21.9%) followed by Maharashtra (7.2%), Andhra Pradesh (7.14%). Goa has the highest area (24.6%) in terms of the fraction of geographic area under wetlands.

Conversion of wetlands for agriculture, deforestation in wetlands like loss of mangroves, impounding of water due to damned reservoirs, groundwater depletion, and degradation of water quality have been cited among threats to wetlands. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/major-loss-to-natural-coastal-wetlands-since-2006-07-isro-101643800198160.html  (02 Feb. 2022)

CAG Audit lays bare numerous breach of India’s coastal regulations An audit has identified dozens of public and private projects that have breached India’s coastal regulations — beach resorts, ports, roads, a racetrack, and even a jail near an Olive Ridley turtle nesting site. The exercise by the Comptroller and Auditor General has flagged deficiencies in the Union environment ministry’s project approval mechanisms and lapses by state coastal regulatory authorities that threaten efforts to conserve coastal ecosystems.

It has also cited instances of marine pollution — from a poorly functioning STP in Digha that is releasing polluted water into the sea and from the Veraval fishing harbour in Gujarat that is discharging untreated effluents into the sea. Examples of projects that have violated Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules include a jail complex near Bangar in Odisha, within the Balukhand-Konark Wildlife Sanctuary that has an Olive Ridley turtle nesting site on the beach, resorts in Kanchipuram (Tamil Nadu), the Vembanad lake region (Kerala), an illegal road in Udupi (Karnataka), and a racetrack in Pattipulam (Tamil Nadu), the CAG said. https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/audit-lays-bare-numerous-breach-of-indias-coastal-regulations/cid/1879239  (10 Aug. 2022) 

Several projects in coastal regulation zones were approved during 2015-2020 despite inadequacies in environmental impact assessment (EIA) reports, according to a new CAG report. Coastal land up to 500 metre from the High Tide Line (HTL) and a stage of 100m along banks of creeks, lagoons, estuaries, backwater and rivers subject to tidal fluctuations is called coastal regulation zone (CRZ).

The CAG report on ‘Conservation of Coastal Ecosystems’ said instances were observed where Expert Appraisal Committees (EAC) of the Union Environment Ministry granted clearances to projects, though domain experts were not present during the deliberations.  Also, cases were noted where the members of EAC were less than half of the total strength during the deliberations as there was no fixed quorum for EAC members.

“Projects were approved despite inadequacies in the EIA reports which included non-accreditation of the consultant involved with the preparation of the EIA report, usage of outdated baseline data, non-evaluation of environmental impacts of the project, non-addressal of disasters which the project area was prone to,” the CAG said.

Activities forming a part of the mitigation plans like mangrove conservation, replantation, biodiversity conservation plan, rain water harvesting plan were not included in the environment management plan as the same was left to the project proponent to be carried out. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/several-coastal-zone-projects-approved-despite-environmental-impact-assessment-inadequacies-cag-report/article65749308.ece (9 Aug 2022)

The audit pointed out various categories of violations. For one, the Environment Ministry hadn’t notified NCZMA as a permanent body and it was being reconstituted every few years. In the absence of defined membership, it was functioning as an ad-hoc body. https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/explained-have-coastal-ecosystem-norms-been-violated/article65764799.ece  (14 Aug. 2022)

Study By 2070, 50% of mangroves will shift or vanish due to climate change By 2070, the Indian Mangroves will reduce and shift by around 50%, especially in southern India, due to decline in suitable habitats along the east and west coasts, revealed a research conducted by Birbal Sahni Institute Palaeosciences (BSIP). If Mangroves are reduced, the natural infrastructure that protects our coast and villages located on the coast will be washed away. A team of five researchers led by BSIP senior scientist Jyoti Srivastava carried out the research on two mangrove species namely Rhizophora mucronata and Avicennia officinalis which are dominating India’s coastline. The research has been published in Elsevier: Ecological Informatics.

Mangroves in the southwest & southeast India that covers four states: Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala & Andhra Pradesh will be in the most vulnerable condition. These coastlines will submerge & the mangroves in the area will degrade more as compared to other areas.

BSIP first collected all the available mangrove fossils records that included a collection of pollen records of the two species from around 6,000 years ago to know how these species survived and what its distribution was. The scientists modelled the distribution of these plants in the past with the help of past climate data and validated it through several techniques. Going through the model projection and past records, they found the two mangrove species had comparatively widespread distribution in the Indian coastline and were flourishing well. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/lucknow/by-2070-50-of-indias-mangroves-will-shift-or-vanish-due-to-climate-change-says-study/articleshow/95591069.cms  (18 Nov. 2022)

Maldives The mystery of dying mangroves The Maldives is home to 15 mangrove species, known as ‘faa’ in the Dhivehi language, including some that are listed as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List. But among these, the country is most anxious about saving one particular species that the IUCN lists as being of ‘least concern’, the Bruguiera cylindrica.

The Maldives is home to 15 mangrove species, known as ‘faa’ in the Dhivehi language, including some that are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List. Photo credit: Abdulla Fazeel/TIE

In Dec 2021, a four-member team led by Prof. Nandan set off to investigate what plagued the mangroves of northern Maldives, located some 280 km from the capital Malé. “I’ve done research on mangroves since 2011 and I had never seen a situation like this. It was really unusual,” said Dr. S Sreelekshmi, post-doctoral fellow & mangrove researcher at CUSAT. “The mangroves had completely dried up — from the root to the tip. There was no foliage; only dried sticks and stems.”

Beyond its cultural value in the Maldives, these plants also serve as the first line of defence in cases of floods wherever they are found. Mangrove forests act as a buffer between the land and the sea, and help protect coastal communities from storms, wind & erosion. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/kolkata/maldives-dying-mangroves-india-role-save-them-7767719/  (11 Feb. 2022)

Report India lost 2 out of 5 wetlands in last 3 decades: Experts Nearly two of every five wetlands in India have lost their natural existence in the last 30 years while 40%of water bodies have lost quality for survival of the aquatic animals. India presently has around 2.2 lakh big wetlands covering over 2.2 ha and 5.5 lakh smaller ones. Of these, nearly 60,000 big wetlands are situated inside protected forests. Of the remaining, conservation work has been carried out on 150 to 200 water bodies so far. There is a need to understand that when a wetland is destroyed, the whole system begins to collapse. It is essential to secure existing wetlands under provisions of law and impose total prohibition on the alteration of the natural inflow and outflow of water bodies. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bareilly/india-lost-2-out-of-5-wetlands-in-last-3-decades-say-experts/articleshow/96839492.cms  (09 Jan. 2023)

Opinion Wetlands Destruction Unfortunately, we still harbor this insane mania to “develop” our water-bodies, river-banks, lakesides and floodplains (where marshes and swamps are born and thrive) and to pave them over to “civilize” them, so there is no glutinous mud or squelch or bulrushes or reeds or dragonflies or wild duck, geese and herons to be seen anywhere. Also, we swear to clean them up every World Wetland Day, and then spend the rest of the year, vomiting raw sewage, and toxic chemical wastes into them without a second thought. And then, when our cities drown in the monsoons, because we’ve built shopping malls on the floodplains, we dare to wonder why… https://indianexpress.com/article/express-sunday-eye/how-wetlands-are-the-nurseries-of-life-7764155/  (09 Feb. 2022)

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

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