Wetlands are critical part of hydrological systems. They provide multiple ecological services to people living in proximal areas. The invisible contribution of wetlands in saturating aquifers and checking groundwater depletion is essential given the growing water scarcity. Additionally, wetlands are home to a variety of plants and animals species making them fully functional and self-sustaining eco-system. Despite the environmental significance and associated support services, wetlands have been subjected to degradation for past many decades.
As part of annual exercise, SANDRP is presenting overview on the status of wetlands over past one year. The overview focuses on incidents of abuse and threats to wetlands across the country. The report also highlights the details of central and state governments’ initiatives and administration actions taken aiming at wetlands protection. Apart from this, there is attempt to throw some light on judicial intervention and ongoing court cases regarding wetlands conservation.
State wetlands face multiple threats In March 2017, a book titled “Biodiversity Richness of Kerala” revealed that riverine ecosystem of Kerala were subjected to human pressures in form of deforestation, land use change, construction of dams, roads, encroachments and mining affecting water holding capacity of the catchments and leading to drying up the rivers and wetlands. Kerala constituted only 1.18 per cent of India’s geographical area but it accommodated 25.69 per cent of the flowering plants in the country. In 2004, Kerala had around 328,402 hectare of wetlands which over the years had fallen to 160,590 hectare dramatic 49 per cent decrease. http://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ians/kerala-wetlands-face-multiple-threats-says-book-117030200590_1.html (Business Standard, 2 March 2017)
Mining posing threat to mangrove forests In Feb. 2017, the district environment committee of the Kerala Sastra Sahithya Parishad alleged that the mineral sand-mining activity carried out by the public-sector Indian Rare Earths along Vellanathurutu in Alapad panchayat was causing widespread damage to the naturally growing mangrove forests in the area. Calling for immediate ban on mining activity the committee complained that a destructive mechanical process was being applied in the area instead of applying the more eco-friendly beach washing method of mining. According to committee the activity had already destroyed over 2 ha of mangrove forests at estuary where the Pallikkal River met the sea. At least 12 mangrove species, some of them threatened or endangered, were growing in the region. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-kerala/Mineral-sand-mining-posing-threat-to-mangrove-forests/article17281729.ece (The Hindu, 10 Feb. 2017)
The East Kolkata Wetlands (EKW) are unique yet complex system of natural and human-made wetlands in West Bengal. The wetlands cover 125 sq km comprising of salt marshes, salt meadows, sewage farms and settling ponds. They are used to treat Kolkata’s sewage, and the nutrients contained in the waste water sustain fish farms and agriculture.
Devised by local fishermen and farmers, these wetlands served, in effect, as the largest natural sewage treatment plant (STP) for the city. And using the purification capacity of wetlands, Kolkata by transforming nearly one-third of the city’s sewage into a rich harvest of fish and fresh vegetables daily, has pioneered an environment-friendly system of sewage disposal. Because of this, the EKW were designated a “wetland of international importance” under the Ramsar Convention on August 19, 2002. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Kolkata_Wetlands
However for past many years, these wetlands are under threat due to exponential expansion of real-estate projects. Recently illegal landfills are on the rise and unprecedented land development and urbanization have been creating concerns about the impact on EKW environment. 2017 has seen the situation turning only worse for EKW.
National Wetlands Atlas has mapped 1381 big wetlands in Punjab State. It has also identified 5049 small wetlands of less than 2.25 hectare area. Total wetland area estimated in the state is 86283 hectare which is about 1.71 per cent of its total geographic area. Out of this, with 59864 hectare the river/stream is accounts for for 69.38 per cent of the wetlands. Reservoirs/Barrages ranks second with 13.74 per cent share spread over 11858 hectare of area.. http://www.moef.nic.in/downloads/public-information/NWIA_Punjab_Atlas.pdf
There are three Ramsar sites (wetlands of International importance) in the state- Harike, Kanjli and Ropar. These wetlands are important habitats for waterfowl, fish and diversity of other flora and fauna including endangered and vulnerable species. Two other wetlands- Ranjit Sagar and Nangal are National wetlands.
Ranjit Sagar is an interstate wetland spreading over in three states (Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and J&K). There are 5 small wetlands considered as state wetlands owing to their rich biodiversity and ecological characters. These are – Keshopur-Miani Jheel, Kahnuwan Chhamb, Jastarwal Jheel, Mand Bharthala and Dholbaha Reservoir. In all, Punjab has 12 important natural and 9 man-made wetlands.
Captivating images of lakes and wetlands strike the imagination of general masses when the name of Jammu and Kashmir is mentioned. For years, the aquatic wonders have been the main attraction of tourists, at the same time supporting livelihood of local communities in multiple ways. These water bodies also provide safe habitats to the lakhs of migratory birds.
However, over the years, gradual siltation, steady encroachment and increasing pollution have put the wetlands eco-system and associated socio-economical benefits at receiving ends. And, in 2017 the situation only got worse.