The Union Environment Ministry notified the new Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017 this year which prohibit a range of activities in wetlands like
- Setting up and expansion of industries
- Waste dumping
- Discharge of effluents.
About Wetlands & Wetlands in India :- Wetlands can be defined as lands transitional between terrestrial and aquatic eco-systems where the water table is usually at or near the surface or the land is covered by shallow water. They support rich biodiversity and provide wide range of ecosystem services such as water storage, water purification, flood mitigation, erosion control, aquifer recharge and others. Threats to Wetlands :- Reclamation and Degradation due to activities like drainage and landfill, pollution, hydrological alteration (water withdrawal and changes in inflow and outflow), over-exploitation resulting in loss of biodiversity and disruption in ecosystem services provided by them. There are at least 115 wetlands that are officially identified by the central government and of those 26 are identified as wetlands of international importance under Ramsar Convention which is an international intergovernmental treaty for conservation of wetlands. India is a party to the treaty.
New Wetland 2017 rules :-
- The new rules stipulate setting up of a State Wetlands Authority in each State and union territories that will be headed by the State’s environment minister and incl/ude a range of government officials.
- These authorities will also include one expert each in the fields of wetland ecology, hydrology, fisheries, landscape planning and socio-economics to be nominated by the state government.
- These authorities will need to develop a comprehensive list of activities to be regulated and permitted within the notified wetlands and their zone of influence, recommend additional prohibited activities for specific wetlands, define strategies for conservation and wise use of wetlands, and undertake measures for enhancing awareness within stakeholders and local communities on values and functions of wetlands.
- Wise use is defined as the principle of sustainable uses that is compatible with conservation.
- The State authorities will also need to prepare a list of all wetlands of the State or union territory within three months, a list of wetlands to be notified within six months, a comprehensive digital inventory of all wetlands within one year which will be updated every ten years.
- The rules prohibit activities like conversion of wetland for non-wetland uses including encroachment of any kind, setting up of any industry and expansion of existing industries, manufacture or handling or storage or disposal of hazardous substances and construction and demolition waste, solid waste dumping, discharge of untreated wastes and effluents from industries, cities, towns, villages and other human settlements.
Issues according to Environmental experts in New Wetland Rules, 2017 :-
- They pointed out that provisions like “central government may consider proposals from the state government or union territory administration for omitting any of the (prohibited) activities on the recommendation of the authority” in the new rules can be misused.
- They also stated that as per the 2010 version of the rules, there was a Central Wetlands Regulatory Authority (CWRA) which will now be replaced by a national committee.
- Another major objection is about the process of appeal against the decisions of wetland authorities. According to the 2010 rules, anyone aggrieved with the CWRA’s decisions could have filed an appeal with the National Green Tribunal, but the new 2017 rules are silent on the appeal process.
- At the outset, the identification process by the State Wetland Authority does not distinguish between existing wetlands and especially those past wetlands which have been encroached and can be proved through legal documents.
- It also does not take into account the Jagpal Singh judgment of Justice Katju for restoration of encroached wetlands throughout the country,” said Sanjay Upadhyay, an environmental advocate in the Supreme Court.
- Other big gap is the subjective definition of “wise use” which is to be determined by the state wetland authority.
Ministry of Environment Forest & Climate Change arguments :-
- The new rules will strengthen the protection and conservation efforts for wetlands.
- Under the new rules, the powers have been given to the State governments so that protection and conservation work can be done at the local level.
- Central government has mainly retained powers regarding monitoring.
- To oversee the work carried out by States, the rules stipulates for setting up of National Wetlands Committee, which will be headed by the MoEFCC Secretary, to monitor implementation of these rules.
- The Committee will also advise the Central Government on appropriate policies and action programmes for conservation and wise use of wetlands, recommend designation of wetlands of international importance under Ramsar Convention, advise on collaboration with international agencies on issues related to wetlands etc.