Dams · Wetlands

WWD 2023: India’s Ramsar Wetlands face Damages, Threats & Govt Apathy

(Feature Image: The dumping ground is adjacent to the Deepor Beel wetland. Photo by Surajit Sharma./ Mongabay India, Aug. 2022)

Marking the World Wetlands Day 2023, this fourth overview by SANDRP compiles reports from 2022 revealing the worsening situation of Ramsar wetlands sites in India. In past few years, the government has shown great hurry in getting Ramsar tag for 75 wetlands from 26 in the country to symbolically mark 75th anniversary of Independence without showing any interest in resolving the existing and looming threats including increasing pollution, siltation, encroachments and climate change threats over old and even new Ramsar wetlands.

The ground reports show that the sole focus of the government is on pushing destructive and ornamental projects in the name of tourism and beautification on these wetlands which are only seen damaging their remaining eco-systems and threatening the livelihoods of dependent communities as an additional threat which only underlines that Ramsar tag does NOT help in wetlands protection and conservation. Experts, citizen groups have been raising this fact for years but in vain. Furthermore the process for seeking Ramsar recognition lacks consultation and participation of primary stakeholders and concerned citizens.

Moreover, in the name of information of Ramsar sites, there is only a combined interactive map apart from two separate pdf file links with location map and state wise listing Ramsar wetlands on Wetlands of India portal by MoEF&CC. The govt has neither prepared any concrete plan to address the threats, nor has it developed credible monitoring mechanism which clearly shows it has no intention to improve the governance of these sites.   

To understand the overall scenario of India wetlands in last one year, kindly see the part 1, part 2 and part 3 of SANDRP annual wetlands overview 2022.

1. Loktak Lake; Manipur Loktak losing its signature fishing rings Ramsar Tag provides no protection to conservation of the wetlands. The warning could not be starker. Wenn du mich siehst, dann weine (“If you see me, then weep”), reads the grim inscription on a rock in the Elbe River near the northern Czech town of Děčín, close to the German border.

As Europe’s rivers run dry in a devastating drought that scientists say could prove the worst in 500 years, their receding waters are revealing long-hidden artefacts, from Roman camps to ghost villages and Second World War shipwrecks.

The so-called “hunger stone” at Děčín is one of dozens in central European rivers engraved to mark their levels during historic droughts – and warn future generations of the famine and hardship likely to follow each time they became visible. https://scroll.in/article/1030366/manipurs-loktak-lake-is-losing-its-signature-fishing-rings-that-may-not-help-conserve-it  (13 Aug. 2022)

A bird’s eye view of the upper-half of Loktak lake in Manipur. Visible to the left is the town of Ningthoukhong. Imphal is located around 50 km away from the lake’s 1 o’clock position. Source: Google Earth/The Wire

The people most affected by changes on and around Loktak were never part of any of the govt’s plans for the lake. For the people living in the floating village of Thanga, their future has now been cast adrift. And what if the Loktak Development Authority (LDA) does not make good on its promise to issue designs and regulations to allow homestays to function in an authorised manner? “This was the first time, so we have compromised. But next time, we will agitate,” said Hemanta. “We have a hand-to-mouth existence. What other choice do we have?” https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/12/7/future-adrift-indias-indigenous-meitei-lose-floating-homestays  (07 Dec. 2022)

Apunba Loktak Ngami Sinmi Cooperative Society and Loktak Floating Homestay Association, Thanga (LOFHAT) came out strongly against LDA’s 18 July 2022 notice threatening to remove/ dismantle Athaphums, Houses (Home stays) and huts within 15 days on grounds of polluting the lake. Stating that Loktak Lake cannot be saved without its people, the joint body urged the authorities to take back the “biased” notification by 30 July, 2022, failure which they threatened to embark on agitation, to resist and fight for its right. They threatened to ban LDA and bar its chairman Asnikumar Moirangthem and tourists from Loktak lake if the notification is not withdrawn by 30 July, 2022. https://thefrontiermanipur.com/joint-body-fights-back-asks-loktak-development-authority-to-withdraw-notice-or-face-music/  (27 July 2022)

The govt’s proposed mega ecotourism project at the Loktak lake – a site of global significance under the Ramsar convention and home to the critically endangered sangai deer – has again waded in troubled waters. Tenders to appoint consultants for the Rs 1,700 crore project in Bishnupur district were floated in 2020, but the Asian Development Bank, which was likely to pump in 80 percent of the money, is learnt to have sought a review considering the possible adverse ecological impact. https://www.newslaundry.com/2022/07/21/trading-ecology-for-tourism-why-biren-singhs-dream-project-might-be-a-nightmare  (21 July 2022) Proposed Tourism Infrastructure in Manipur puts Loktak Lake Residents at Eviction Risk. https://www.landconflictwatch.org/conflicts/loktak-lake-area-tourism-plan-displaces-local-people  (18 July 2022)

The Loktak lake development is on the manifesto of every political party in Manipur, for ecotourism, environment protection and fisheries development. The central government is also looking to the Loktak lake for its inland waterways project. Fishing villages, which depend on the Loktak for their income, are worried about the impact of these development projects. The LDA is also considered a threat to the villages as they have undertaken the work of removing the Phumdi growth, to clean the lake, which also means that the temporary huts set up by the fishermen on the floating biomass are also torn down. https://www.indiatoday.in/elections/manipur-assembly-polls-2022/story/loktak-lake-development-project-manifesto-manipur-polls-1916637-2022-02-23  (23 Feb. 2022)

Claiming to promote and develop Loktak lake, the government broke the law while pushing for eco-tourism and inland waterways mega-projects. The eco-tourism project proposes to turn the lake into a “world-class tourist destination”, and involves resorts, a golf course, a recreation centre and a club. In its proposal for the inland waterways project, the state government claimed the floating islands of vegetation for which the lake is famous are a “growing menace”. Till date, the Manipur government’s plans for Loktak lake are either at odds with or have skipped over the legal protections the water-body enjoys. https://science.thewire.in/environment/manipur-bjp-government-loktake-lake-misled-high-court-broke-the-law-ecotourism-inland-waterways/  (21 Feb. 2022)

On 25th Feb 2022, the Court responded to the review applications by two members of All Loktak Lake Area Fishers Union of Manipur (ALLAFUM) – Smt Oinom Akashini Devi and Smt Khoirom Kiranbala reaffirmed the stay on constructions in or around the Loktak Lake Area and directed the Govt to ensure that no development/construction works are initiated in or around the Loktak Lake without the leave of the Court. https://www.icsf.net/newss/manipur-fishers-union-gets-stay-on-construction-in-loktak-lake-area/ 

Documentary: Losing Loktak, Manipur’s largest freshwater lake https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqXCCfH1gLo  (28 Feb. 2022)

2. Deepor Beel; Assam NGT dissatisfied with efforts to save Deepor Beel wetlands NGT has expressed dissatisfaction over the slow progress of waste management at Deepor Beel, Assam’s only Ramsar wetland, on the banks of Brahmaputra near Guwahati. The NGT said this on April 28 while disposing an 8-year-old application filed by environment activist Rohit Choudhury seeking control on flow of effluents into the wetland spread over 40-sq-km.

“It is seen that solid waste is not scientifically managed nor legacy waste has been remediated. Capacity of proposed integrated waste management plant has not been specified,” the NGT order read. “There is also no water quality monitoring programme of the wetland. In spite of monitoring by the tribunal for a long period, no satisfactory progress has taken place so far,” it added. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/green-watchdog-dissatisfied-at-efforts-to-save-deepor-beel-wetlands-in-assam-101651592257854.html  (03 May 2022)

For the past 15 years, municipal solid waste of Guwahati has been unscientifically dumped next to the Deepor Beel. Research shows substantial contamination of the water bodies, including Deepor Beel from the untreated legacy waste. The waste is a health hazard for people, livestock and wildlife. https://india.mongabay.com/2022/08/untreated-legacy-waste-is-polluting-the-sensitive-wetland-ecosystem-of-deepor-beel/  (24 Aug. 2022)

Ramsar designated wetlands of Northeast India including Deepor Beel, Loktak Lake, Rudrasagar Lake are under imminent threat https://assamtribune.com/north-east/ramsar-designated-wetlands-of-northeast-india-are-under-imminent-threat-1352326  (02 Feb. 2022)

3. Hygam; J&K Ramsar wetland on verge of extinction, courtesy govt apathy Detailed and informative report on Hygam wetlands a renowned bird sanctuary spread over 802 ha, declared a Ramsar site in Aug ‘22, important habitat for migratory water birds in Central Asian Flyway, part of Wullar system & Jhelum floodplains in Baramulla dist is facing govt apathy. 

The main factors are excessive habitat destruction, pollution, and heavy human interference. Citing Kashmir’s “geomorphic setup”, experts said that in view of its flat topography, Kashmir is highly vulnerable to flooding, but most wetlands, which acted as reservoirs of floodwaters, have lost their carrying capacity due to haphazard urbanisation and encroachments.

In Sep 2022, the High Court had sought a report on the status and present position of wetlands included in Ramsar Sites in J&K from the govt and also directed the Union Ministry of Environment to submit the Action Taken Report (ATR) on the issue. The court has made it clear that the importance of preservation of wetlands and water bodies cannot be sufficiently emphasised & the need to set up a regulatory mechanism for all wetlands to maintain their ecological character & ultimately support their integrated management in the 3 regions of J&K.

J&K has lost 2372 kanal (120 ha) of wetlands between 2006-07 and 2017-18, according to a report by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, a Dept of the GoI. https://www.greaterkashmir.com/todays-paper/front-page/vanishing-wetlands-pristine-hygam-wetland-on-verge-of-extinction-courtesy-govt-apathy  (29 Nov. 2022)

Hokersar SOS from Hokersar Wetland Just 10 kms away from Srinagar city, the Hokersar wetland, a refuge of thousands of migratory birds, is now dying silently. “For the last three years, the wetland has been pushed to the brink of extinction due lack of manpower by the concerned department,” said Ali Mohd, 45, a local.

Known as the ‘queen of wetlands’ in Kashmir, Hokersar was declared as a Conservation Reserve under the J&K Wild protection Act 1978. It was declared as a bird sanctuary under the Indian national wetlands conservation programme. According to official data, the active area of Hokersar has shrunk from 14 sqkms to less than 6 sqkms in the last 10 years. https://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/en/newsdetail/index/14/21821/sos-from–hokersar-wetland-  (05 May 2022)

Athar Parvaiz: Fed by the perennial Doodhganga River, the Hokersar Wetland is the destination of 68 waterfowl species including the great egret, great crested grebe, little cormorant, common shelduck, tufted duck & endangered ferruginous duck – winter migrants from Siberia, China, Central Asia & northern Europe. Now there is not enough water for them.

The wetland has dried out to such an extent that a local resident said: “We are able to drive our load carriers [small trucks] inside the wetland and gather fodder for our cows.” The wetland was not only deprived of water, but over 80% of the material that had been excavated during dredging was left there, defeating the purpose of the whole exercise.

Rashid Naqash, the regional wildlife warden whose department oversees the Hokersar Wetland, expressed his dismay during a workshop on the conservation of Himalayan wetlands, held in Srinagar on 13-14 June. He said he hoped that work on the sluice gate “will start soon as we have again taken up this issue with the concerned department”.

Dredging of this flood spill channel in Hokersar Wetland has turned a major portion into a land mass, official communications state (Image: Athar Parvaiz/Third Pole)

This is not a problem only in Kashmir. In July last year, local residents and environmentalists protested against what the government called the “redevelopment” of a network of seven lakes in Nainital in Uttarakhand under the Sattal Redevelopment Plan. Early last year in Manipur, locals objected to the government’s intervention in developing Loktak Lake as a vast tourism site, saying it would be disastrous for local ecosystems as well as putting an end to their fishing-based livelihoods. People who live around wetlands in the Himalayas and depend on them for their livelihoods have been saying for a long time that responsible eco-tourism is the only way to protect them and gather revenue. Such efforts by authorities have been few and far between. https://www.thethirdpole.net/en/nature/recommendations-galore-but-are-they-benefitting-himalayan-wetlands/  (16 Aug. 2022)

Illegal mining causing siltation in Hokesar wetlands Illegal mining is fast silting up Hokersar wetland as Doodh Ganga passes through this wetland, which is a designated Ramsar site. Flow of silt has also converted a vast chunk of Hokersar wetland into marsh, disturbing the habitat of lakhs of migratory birds. The Wildlife Department last year even shot a letter to District Mineral Officer Budgam to stop illegal mining in Doodh Ganga but the Mining department failed to act. https://www.greaterkashmir.com/todays-paper/front-page/illegal-riverbed-mining-devastates-kashmirs-fragile-river-ecosystem  (05 Jan. 2023)

4. Kerala Vembanad lake continues to decay 20 years after being declared Ramsar site The lake, which is a source of livelihood for farmers of Kuttanad and the fisherfolk community, continues to undergo ecological degradation due to pollution and unauthorised constructions on its banks, with experts calling for “committed efforts” to save its wetland ecosystem. With a (gradually shrinking) area of over 2,000 sqkms and a length of around 96 km, it is one of the largest lakes in Kerala and the longest in the country and is bound by the districts of Alappuzha, Kottayam and Ernakulam.

According to ecological experts and various studies conducted over the years, the lake is facing serious environmental degradation due to recurring floods, increased pollution, reduction in water spread area and increased weed growth. Experts like E J James, who was a member of the national committee on wetlands and a former director in Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (CWRDM), believe the steps that the state govt claims to be taking remain on paper and nothing is ever implemented at the ground level.

James, who was part of the expert panel which had pushed for Vembanad to be declared a Ramsar site, said the solution to the threat of ecological decay faced by the lake is not as simple as removal of encroachments or building an outer bund to prevent silt deposition in the Thanneermukkom bund. The bund was constructed to regulate saline water intrusion into the freshwater lake. “After it was declared a Ramsar site, hardly anything has been done to protect the wetland system or maintain the ecological balance there,” he said.

Besides environmental concerns, pollution and recurring floods in the lake also paint a bleak picture regarding the livelihood of the fisherfolk in the area and farmers as Kuttanad, also known as the Rice Bowl of Kerala, lies on the southern portion of the water body, James said. https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/vembanad-lake-continues-to-shrink-decay-20-years-after-being-declared-ramsar-site/article65878461.ece  (11 Sept. 2022)

Dumping of untreated sewage has impacted the ecosystem along the Alappuzha and Kottayam stretches of Vembanad Lake, according to the PCB. The report submitted to the NGT says faecal coliform exceeds permissible limit, while the oxygen content is below the desired limit.  https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/alappuzha-kottayam-stretches-of-vembanad-lake-choked-by-sewage-pollution-says-pcb/article65861352.ece  (07 Sept. 2022) Irked by the worsening pollution of the Vembanad & Ashtamudi lakes, NGT asked the Additional Chief Secretary (Env) to appear in person with an action-taken report on restoring the waterbodies to their original state at the next sitting on Jan 6, 2023. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/steps-taken-to-check-pollution-of-vembanad-ashtamudi-lakes-inadequate-says-ngt/article65809489.ece  (26 Aug. 2022)

Kuttanad, a unique wetland complex in central Kerala, is under severe ecological threat from both climate change and policy impasse. https://frontline.thehindu.com/environment/will-kuttanad-be-the-next-vanishing-wetland/article65546163.ece  (25 Aug. 2022)

Are houseboats to blame for the slow ruin of backwaters? A study by the Thiruvananthapuram-based National Centre for Earth Science Studies estimates that the lake may cease to exist in another 50 years. But the reasons for this are several.

The lake’s real monster In 1976, a sinister structure rose from the lake, cleaving it into two – a saline north and a more-or-less freshwater south. The Thanneermukom Bund. It disturbed the seamless flow of the waters and created an ecological imbalance that continues to this day. “It was the unanticipated flood of 1949 that paved way for the construction of the barrage,” said Dr S Bijoy Nandan, Dean, Faculty of Marine Sciences, CUSAT. “In the flood, several paddy polders in the reclaimed fields of Kuttanad were lost, including that of the then state agriculture minister. The barrage was his answer to prevent further calamity, but it now threatens the very existence of the lake,” said Nandan.

Tojo T D, project coordinator of ATREE in Alappuzha, concurs. The increased closure time of the barrage as well as its unscientific management have enhanced aquatic weed growth & accumulation of silt deposits on the lake’s southern side. When the barrage was constructed, there was a slew of conditions. One of which was that it will remain open every 4th year. This has not happened yet. “The barrage is only open for a few months. There is no fixed calendar. The incursion of saltwater is essential not only to cleanse the lake system, but also vital for fish to breed and thrive. The irregularity of barrage operations makes this difficult,” Tojo added.

ATREE’s yearly fish count recently revealed an alarming trend. The fish found in the survey were mostly freshwater species and their count had dwindled to 47 from 150 a few decades ago. Not only that, the water samples taken from 15 points in the lake tested for zero salinity. “This means that the lake is slowly turning into a freshwater system,” Tojo said. With summer rains intensifying on account of climate change, now even if the bunds are opened, it is unlikely that the brackish seawater can push back the fast-moving river waters flowing into the lake. https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/kerala/2023/jan/23/are-houseboats-to-blame-for-theslow-ruin-of-keralas-backwaters-2540428.html  (23 Jan. 2023)

Vembanad wetland system shrinking drastically: Report The floods of 2018 and 2019 aggravated the situation, and currently all areas, other than major boat routes and ship channels in Kochi, have lost their depths. The drastic fall in the depths may ultimately lead to the death of one of the largest ecosystems in the country, warns the 4-year-long study by the Centre for Aquatic Resource Management and Conservation (CARMC) of the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies (Kufos).

“Unscrupulous filling of the wetland also contributed in the lake losing its area. The fish wealth too registered a drastic fall. Around 150 to 200 fish species were identified in the lake in the 1950s and it has declined to below 100 now. Fish species like pearl spot, freshwater prawn, mullet, crab, catfish, anchovy, salmon, silver belly, sole fish, and shellfish in the lake are hit by the accumulation of silt in the bed. The natural process of accumulation of silt inside the paddy polder was stopped after the construction of strong outer bunds,” the report said. https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/kerala/2022/feb/03/vembanad-wetland-system-shrinking-drastically-report-2414562.html  (03 Feb. 2022) How Vembanad lake of Kerala is shrinking in spite of decades old Ramsar tag. https://www.deccanherald.com/national/south/20-years-after-getting-ramsar-tag-vembanad-lake-continues-to-shrink-and-decay-1144171.html  (11 Sept. 2022)

Kuttanad is sinking again: Report Researchers have found that many areas in Kuttanad have subsided by 20 cm to 30 cm after the 2018 floods. Kuttanad region mostly falling in the Alappuzha district lies below sea level. The dry lands and fields remaining flooded for prolonged periods during the 2018 floods is the reason for the subsidence that is being experienced now, the report said. The flood water seeped down into the earth and compacted the soil underneath. The land began to sink after this. The study says that this is the reason why tides have been causing water logging in recent years. The study recommends that the problem could be solved by strengthening the bunds by raising their height and width. https://www.onmanorama.com/news/kerala/2023/01/10/kuttanad-joshimath-uttarakhand-sinking-report.html  (10 Jan. 2023)

Satellite imagery detects water hyacinth infestation in Kuttanad A novel study involving researchers in India and the United Kingdom has succeeded in using satellite images to detect water hyacinth, an invasive aquatic weed, in Vembanad Lake in Kuttanad. The results of the study show significantly greater positive detection ratings compared to more traditional detectors.

Satellite images of an area of Vembanad Lake taken at different times. On the left is a satellite imagery of the lake free of water hyacinth. The one on the right shows weed infestation. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement/The Hindu

The researchers say they have shown for the first time that SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) could be used to detect water hyacinth in the lake with a high level of accuracy. They also prepared a heatmap, a first of its kind, showing the water hyacinth presence/coverage over a two-year time frame, which could be used to aid the weed management practices within the area. The team collected satellite images of an area near the Thanneermukkam Bund in Vembanad Lake for a period between January 2019 and April 2020 and studied the spread of water hyacinth.  https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/satellite-imagery-detects-water-hyacinth-infestation-in-kuttanad/article65537153.ece   (17 June 2022)

Faecal contamination levels on the Vembanad Lake stretch near Goshree bridge, oil tank jetty near Marine Drive, Willingdon Island, and Thoppumpady have exceeded permissible limits, indicating continued illegal discharge of untreated sewage into the Kochi Kayal. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/indiscriminate-sewage-pollution-in-kochi-kayal/article65826100.ece  (29 Aug. 2022) The Vembanad lake which serves as a lifeline for 1.6 million people in Kerala, is also one of the most polluted water bodies in the world. https://scroll.in/video/1038410/eco-india-why-it-is-essential-to-protect-our-wetland-ecosystems-from-degrading  (27 Nov. 2022)

5. Madhya Pradesh Newest Ramsar wetland covered in invasive water hyacinth Sankhya Sagar an artificial lake in Shivpuri dist which was declared a Ramsar site in July 2022 has virtually disappeared under a thick layer of water hyacinth (Pontederia crassipes), an invasive species native to South Africa. The lake spreads across 248 ha with a catchment of 37,522 ha and helps maintain the ecological balance of the Madhav National Park.

Sankhya Sagar supports significant populations of 19 indigenous fish species, which spawn and breed in its habitat, according to the website for Ramsar wetlands. The water body has a mix of riverine and palustrine (marsh) habitat fish populations, making them critical to maintaining the overall biodiversity of the region.  The fish species, in turn, support the population of piscivorous (fish-eating) birds. Waterfowls are also present here in large numbers. The lake is home to 73 species of birds and welcomes migratory birds during winter.  The lake is also home to marsh crocodiles.

The northern side of the water body is a hilly area and several minor drains join it. The Maniyar river connects the Sankhya Sagar to another lake, Jadhav Sagar, which passes through the national park. A few major feeder drains from Jadhav Sagar join it on the eastern side. The lake’s western side is downstream and has a dam line — a barrier to control water levels. The water flows through the spillway towards another waterbody, the Madhav Sagar lake. Both Jadhav Sagar and Madhav Sagar are also covered in water hyacinths.

The State Wetland Authority sent a proposal last year to the MP govt for notifying both these lakes in Shivpuri under Wetland Rules 2017. After the notification, both these water bodies could apply to become Ramsar sites as well. “The fact remains that even if we spend Rs 20 lakh and clean Sankhya Sagar, water hyacinth from the connecting water bodies will pollute the lake again. All these water bodies need to be cleaned to prevent the invasive plant from spreading,” Uttam Sharma, chief conservator of forest for Madhav National Park said.

There was a noticeable lack of migratory birds at the lake this winter, thanks to the invasive plant. “Migratory birds otherwise fly to Sakhya Sagar, were not spotted throughout winters this year,” Abhay Jain, a lawyer working on environment issues in Shivpuri said.

Collector and District Magistrate for Shivpuri Akshay Kumar Singh said that he has spoken to the local municipal corp and the CM’s office to get the invasive plant cleared from the local streams and ponds of the city.  However, Sankhya Sagar falls under the forest department and can only be cleaned with the efforts of the director of Madhav National Park.

Sankhya Sagar has virtually disappeared under the water hyacinths, blocking sunlight and reducing oxygen levels in the lake. Photo: Shuchita Jha / DTE

Chattri Trust, headed by Rajya Sabha member Jyotiraditya Scindia, manages the Jadhav Sagar Lake. “The weather is still cold. Once the weather gets better, we will call them to clear out the lake. The lake was last cleaned in 1998 and once earlier in 1986. It is a laborious task and will take time,” said Ashok Kumar Mohite, officer for the trust. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/wildlife-biodiversity/madhya-pradesh-s-newest-ramsar-wetland-covered-in-invasive-water-hyacinth-threatening-biodiversity-87293  (24 Jan. 2023)

INDORE PONDS Ahead of GIS and NRI summit, Indore Municipal Corp (IMC) has launched beautification and development work at Sirpur and Yashwant Sagar ponds that have been declared as Ramsar Sites. City-based ornithologists and environmentalists have, however, said that not much was being done to protect and conserve the wetlands. According to ornithologist and president of Nature & Wildlife Conservation and Awareness Society (NWCAS) Ravi Sharma and vice-president of The Nature Volunteers (TNV) Abhilash Khandekar, the issue of hyacinth in Chhota Talab at Sirpur wetland due to release of sewage of nearby colonies, along with encroachment, illegal fishing and bird hunting, noise pollution, increasing unwarranted activities including motorboat and spillage of oil in Gulawat are major issues to be taken up to help protecting the Ramsar sites. They also said that IMC’s focus is on works of development and beautification while most of the measures to protect the wetland and making favorable conditions for the migratory and resident birds are being ignored. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/indore/sirpur-yashwant-sagar-ponds-to-get-facelift/articleshow/96331143.cms  (19 Dec. 2022)

Bhopal’s Upper Lake left to shrink & choke Disbanded capital project administration (CPA) is yet to be officially transferred to the Bhopal Municipal Corp (BMC), according to senior BMC and CPA officials. Recently on World Wetlands Day BMC top officials pledged to ‘safeguard the UNESCO project wetlands of Bhopal’ and also took a pledge to keep the city clean.

However, on the other side Upper Lake built by Raja Bhoj, an alarming rate of encroachment is taking place. The BMC pledge to keep city clean also needs to find headway to save the eco-diversity. Even with the CPA, BMC has been entrusted with ten tasks to preserve the Wetlands and lake, as per UNESCO documents and funding received through international agency about two decades ago. BMC has a lake conservation wing which also is entrusted with dredging, desilting and spill into the catchment area of the lake.

Basic monitoring would provide the BMC and administration a sound basic information to clear encroachment. “We have not received any complaints of encroachment. Action would be taken, if true,” said BMC additional commissioner, Pawan Singh. Use of drones and other tech to keep tabs on illegal developments, is something, that the BMC does not practise, he replied. Other wings of BMC have routinely deployed drones. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bhopal/upper-lake-left-to-shrink-choke-garbage-encroachments-on-wetland/articleshow/89627318.cms  (17 Feb. 2022)

NGT notice to BMC, Wetland Authority on Upper Lake Cruise Restaurant NGT, Bhopal has served notice on state & district wetland depts, BMC on the construction of a cruise restaurant on the restricted area of the Upper Lake. Construction of a cruise restaurant is underway on 10,000 square feet near the Boat Club of the Upper Lake in violation of the rules. 

The green tribunal has clubbed all the petitions related to illegal constructions on Upper Lake and will hear them together. A petition was filed in the NGT regarding constructions within a radius of 50 meters at the Full Tank Level (FTL) on Upper Lake. The NGT has summoned the officials of the dept concerned including BMC, Wetland Authority seeking reply in this matter. https://www.freepressjournal.in/bhopal/bhopal-ngt-notice-to-bmc-wetland-authority-on-upper-lake-cruise-restaurant  (11 Oct. 2022)

NGT has directed the CPCB and SPCB to periodically monitor the activities of a cruise vessel polluting the Bhoj wetland in Bhopal. The order was issued Jan 10, 2023. Applicant Subhash Pandey had approached the NGT, highlighting violations committed in permitting the cruise vessel in Bhoj wetland by the Madhya Pradesh govt. The cruise began operating in 2011.

The wetland is also a Ramsar site & has two lakes, Upper lake, also called Bhojtal and Lower Lake or Chhota Talaab. It provides drinking water to 1.2 million people, Pandey highlighted during the Jan 10 hearing. Small cruise vessels with passengers act as floating colonies that pollute water bodies with sewage, wastewater and other contaminants, the petition said. A mid-sized cruise vessel can consume 150 tonnes of fuel each day and dump toxic waste in water, Pandey said. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/pollution/ngt-probe-into-cruise-operating-in-bhopal-ramsar-wetland-87254  (20 Jan. 2023)

“City of Bhopal is proud of being a city of lakes, but the facts are that more than 41 nullhas, passages and units are discharging untreated chemical sewage or polluted water into the lake, which is the largest source of water in the city. Encroachments, illegal constructions of residential & commercial establishments are another problem in addition to throwing of garbage and/or dumping them near the open space of the lake.” NGT observed in Feb 2022 on a petition filed to protect the water bodies in Bhopal including upper lake. https://www.freepressjournal.in/bhopal/bhopal-progress-on-1st-ramsar-site-in-20-years (29 Jul 2022)

About 24 bags of garbage including plastic disposables, glass bottles, pouches etc were removed from Bhoj Wetland during a cleanliness drive. The Bhoj Tal Cleaning campaign was conducted by Bhopal Birds and VNS Nature Saviours in Bilkheda area on June 12. https://www.freepressjournal.in/bhopal/bhopal-24-bags-of-garbage-removed-from-bhoj-wetland  (12 June 2022)

6. Punjab Keshopur chamb on ventilator Things have come to such a pass that if the wetland does not get a benefactor, it would soon lose its soul. The roads leading to the wetland remained in poor shape. Sidhu gave Rs 3 cr to develop all the 4 thoroughfares which lead to the area. He had ensured that these were reconstructed and recarpeted, but once he was shorn of his govt position, the roads started falling victim to encroachments & govt apathy.

The Tourism Interpretation Centre built at a cost of Rs 5 cr to guide tourists, has died a natural death. The ornithologists say that if the state govt does not give a massive funds, the birds may well start skipping the area. https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/asias-biggest-wetland-on-ventilator-373694 (28 Feb 2022)

Kanjli Wetland in Kapurthala choked with water hyacinth. The Wetland sees no migratory birds this year. The Tribune 03 Feb. 2022

Harike-Nangal Pollution impacts fish at Harike, Nangal wetlands: Study Nutritional value of fish, an important source of food, found at the Harike wetland, also known as Harike Pattan, and Nangal wetland in the state, is directly affected due to rising pollution levels caused by discharge of industrial effluents into the water bodies says a latest study on the Harike and Nangal wetlands by an assistant professor and a research scholar of Zoology and Environmental Sciences at Punjabi University, Patiala.

The study points out that pollution level at Harike wetland is high in comparison to Nangal wetlands. The WQI of Harike wetland is poor at 56.68, while that of Nangal wetland is good (39.54) and safe for the ecosystem. The Harike wetland also has a heavy load of heavy metal pollution index and high metal index. https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/pollution-impacts-fish-at-harike-nangal-wetlands-study-387775  (20 April 2022)

Kanjli Water hycinth choking Kanjli wetland Once home to a thriving forest, the wetland, which had begun attracting migratory birds in good numbers in winters till a few years ago, is currently choked with water hyacinth. Due to this, the site has failed to attract birds in recent years. However, locals were quick to ask what caused the once-clean Kanjli Wetland to choke in the first place. Even Seechewal, an environmentalist, is himself sceptical about some parts of the process. He said, “The wetland had been cleaned but the hyacinth keeps coming back. Last year, Rs 5 crore had been earmarked for a project here. I don’t know what happened to that money.” https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/kapurthala-admn-begins-clean-up-of-kanjli-wetland-again-444712  (27 Oct. 2022)

Baisakhi Mela litters Kanjli with plastic waste While the idea of the mela is to make all possible efforts to redevelop the Kanjli wetland as a tourism hub, concerns that it might endanger the Ramsar Site, reign heavy among citizens. On the one hand myriad stalls and an array of cultural events regaled visitors, on the other, the administration failed to care for the conservation of the ecology at the wetland. Despite being a Ramsar site, use of plastic disposables and plates was allowed during the fair at the Kanjli Wetland. Plastic disposables were strewn right along signboards of the Wetland which asked visitors not to pollute the environs. https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/jalandhar/baisakhi-mela-back-at-kanjli-wetland-after-20-yrs-388963   (24 April 2022)

7. Haiderpur; Uttar Pradesh Experts slam move to dewater Haiderpur wetland Shockingly, UP irrigation department has dewatered a Ramsar wetland site bordering Muzzafarnagar and Bijnor districts. The water was drained out in two days from Jan 10 2023. This is in violation of Wildlife act and wetland rules. The irrigation department Engineer claimed that they had no information that this is Ramsar site and what are the relevant rules. They said we do it every year. However, they do it every year gradully and much later in the season. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/experts-slam-move-to-dewater-haiderpur-wetland-101674241511016-amp.html  (21 Jan. 2023)

The draining out was done under pressure from farmers who complained of water logging in their fields due to high groundwater level, state officials admitted. Uttar Pradesh must immediately stop the further draining of the Haiderpur wetland and ensure that dewatering the protected Ramsar site for farming needs takes place only when migratory birds are not nesting at the location, the Union environment ministry has directed. Taking cognisance of the Union ministry’s direction, Uttar Pradesh minister of state (Jal Shakti Dept), Dinesh Khatik, said: “The Irrigation Dept has been directed to stop the dewatering of the wetland so that required water is available for the migratory birds.” https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/govt-steps-in-to-stop-haiderpur-wetland-s-dewatering-101674412169330.html (23 Jan 2023)

India’s 47th Ramsar site completely drained of water by opening bijnor barrage gates, forcing 35,000+ migratory water birds to fly away. Before and after pics: Jan12th / Jan 16th. https://twitter.com/ashishJgd108/status/1616422013614317569?s=20&t=m425LsN04f1zcmi1xXHM5w  (19 Jan. 2023)

Shrinking Wetlands Keep Migratory Birds Away Shrinking wetlands have kept migratory birds away from Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary this year. According to the Asian Waterbird Census (AWC) 2023, it recorded a decrease in species diversity from 45 to 38 compared to last year and a fall in the number of water birds from 1,521 in 2022 to 931 this year. The 38 species include 20 resident species, 18 winter migratory species and five species of IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red-listed threatened birds. Some of the winter migratory water bird species recorded this year include those that migrate from central Asia like Greylag Geese, Barheaded Geese and Ruddy Shelduck among others.

Elaborating on the reason for the sharp decline, AWC state coordinator, Wetlands International, T.K. Roy said: “Unexpected rainfall in the months of Oct-Nov 2022 revived several dried wetlands, especially seasonal marshlands on the Ganga floodplains which attracted a good number of long-distance winter migratory birds, especially ducks, geese and waders as recorded till Dec 2022. “However, this year, most winged guests did not turn up as the revived wetlands largely dried up and existing bigger wetlands are fully choked by water hyacinth, leaving little space for the birds to thrive.” https://sambadenglish.com/shrinking-wetlands-keep-migratory-birds-away/  (24 Jan. 2023)

8. EKW; West Bengal Panel to continue monitoring wetlands, says NGT The special bench of NGT has ordered the continuation of the East Kolkata Wetland Monitoring Committee headed by the state chief secretary, which will meet at least once a month and upload its minutes on the website of the SPCB. Any stakeholder/citizen can give suggestions for consideration by the committee, which was formed in response to a case filed by green activist Subhas Datta. The special bench also said that the water quality monitoring of wetlands and water bodies should be a regular feature of the execution plan.

The special bench has also asked for proper implementation of Integrated Management Action Plan for East Kolkata Wetlands (EKW) 2021-2026. The NGT expressed concern over huge encroachments of EKW. There are more than 25,000 encroachments. On behalf of the state, it is submitted that action has been initiated against the encroachers. One of the reasons for the delay in taking action is stated to be on account of the long-pending cases filed under the East Kolkata Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Act, 2006.

This matter is of serious concern and requires monitoring but is not within the domain of the tribunal. We, therefore, request the Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court to be gracious enough to look into the matter so that the matters relating to serious environmental infractions are heard and disposed of expeditiously, the bench observed. We direct the state, more particularly the environment department, to file an affidavit to place on record the present status of all actions taken and also an action plan that is dealing with the matter. We also direct the BMC to place on record the latest status. Let the Nabadiganta Industrial Township Authority (NDITA) and the New Kolkata Development Authority (NKDA) also file reports on the current status, the bench added. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/ngt-panel-to-continue-monitoring-wetlands/articleshow/91297988.cms  (04 May 2022)

The East Kolkata Wetlands Management Authority (EKWMA) has urged the environment and heritage department of Kolkata Municipal Corp and Anandapur police to complete the demolition of encroachments in daag numbers 1,147; 1,148 and 1,149 in Ward 108 under Dhapa mouza. In the 359 FIRs that the EKWMA has filed till date, this is only the seventh instance of a structure being pulled down. Of the several water bodies that have been drained or encroached, EKWMA has been able to restore only one in Ward 58 of Bidhannagar Municipal Corp. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kolkata/raze-illegal-structures-to-restore-wetlands/articleshow/92760316.cms  (09 July 2022)

Fishermen use wastewater in Kolkata to rear fish (Image Source: India Water Portal)

Heavy metal pollution is poisoning the East Kolkata wetlands, affecting fish and posing a threat to the health of humans who depend on this fish for their food. Urgent action is needed! https://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/poisoned-wetlands-toxic-fish  (27 June 2022)

9. Maharashtra Flamingos face twin dangers of water pollution, wetland burial The pink guests of Mumbai and MMR are facing twin dangers as the Thane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary (TCFS) being polluted and their abodes, the wetlands, are being buried or dried up. The govt had recommended a Ramsar Wetland status for the TSFC while Navi Mumbai Municipal Corp (NMMC) tagged its area as a Flamingo City as part of the Swachh Bharat drive. Environment Principal Secretary Manisha Mhaiskar Patankar asked the MS of MPCB to check environmentalists’ complaints against heavy pollutants leaking into the creek. “The officials have been in a denial mode despite us presenting them with irrefutable data and proof,” Stalin D, director of Vanashakti Foundation said.

BNHS has identified six waterbodies – Belpada, Bhendkhal, Panje, NRI, TS Chanakya & Bhandup – as TCFS satellite wetlands which have to be maintained. But now these wetlands are also under human attack, said NatConnect Foundation Director B N Kumar. Bhendkhal wetland in Uran has been buried totally by NMSEZ despite the High Court appointed wetland grievance redressal committee intervention, Belpada is being converted into a parking lot by JNPA. Panje wetland faces frequent threats as inter-tidal water flow is being blocked despite the NGT order to the authorities to save the place. NRI-TSC wetlands in Nerul are dried up frequently, pollution at Bhandup is very high. https://www.deccanherald.com/national/west/flamingos-face-twin-dangers-of-water-pollution-wetland-burial-1116960.html  (10 June 2022)

Water pollutants endangering Waterbird species in wetlands Water pollution from agricultural runoff, effluents, and sewage are a consistent threat to six key wetlands in Maharashtra where 112 species of water birds from 18 families have been found, a study by BNHS shows. The bird monitoring survey of the avian guests coming via the Central Asian Flyway was done by BNHS between Oct 2021 & Apr 2022 across six wetlands in Maharashtra – Nandur Madhmeshwar Wildlife Sanctuary in Nashik (Ramsar Site), Jayakwadi Bird Sanctuary in Aurangabad, Gangapur Dam in Nashik, Ujjani Dam in Solapur, Hatnur Dam in Jalgaon, and Visapur Dam in Ahmednagar. The project was commissioned by the State Mangrove Foundation.

“Protecting these wetlands will help us achieve our sustainable development goals and commitments to the global community on Central Asian Flyway that the Prime Minister had announced during the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS COP 13) in Gandhinagar in Feb 2020,” said Mr Virendra Tiwari, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, Maharashtra Mangrove Cell and Executive Director, Mangrove Foundation.  The study determines the role of these wetlands in supporting migratory as well as resident birds, with special reference to rare and threatened species. https://www.freepressjournal.in/mumbai/bnhs-study-water-pollutants-endangering-waterbird-species-in-maharashtra-wetlands  (12 Nov. 2022)

10. CAG Gross violations of environmental norms at Ramsar sites Two separate reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) have flagged violations of environmental norms in at least four Ramsar sites in the country. The CAG report on ‘Conservation of Coastal Ecosystems’, tabled in Parliament on August 8 containing observations of performance audit for the period 2015-20, pointed out illegal construction on islands at Vembanad Lake in Kerala and mismanagement of equipment at Chilika Lake in Odisha. Another CAG report, presented in the W Bengal Assembly earlier, raised red flags on violations of environmental norms at EKW and Sundarbans. https://thefederal.com/news/cag-report-flags-gross-violations-of-environmental-norms-at-ramsar-sites/  (16 Aug. 2022)

In addition to the above reports, the Gujarat govt in March 2022 planned to discharge STP ‘treated’ water into the Thol lake five months after it was designated Ramsar sites. The plan was disallowed by NGT in July 2022 after criticism and objections by concerned environmentalists and experts. Similarly, the respective High Courts have been dealing with the legal cases over degradation of Chilika lake in Odisha and Ramsar wetlands in Jammu & Kashmir.

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

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