Call this a ‘filthy’ green mission.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) is poised to set up a regulatory authority that is expected to keep ecologically sensitive water bodies as “naturally dirty as possible”.
The framework for the proposed Central Wetlands Regulatory Authority was made in May and posted on the ministry’s website for suggestions from green groups and environment specialists. The deadline for ideas expired in June.
“For some strange reason, the focus of conservation in India has never been on wetlands. We have undertaken this mission with the belief that wetlands should be allowed to remain nature’s dustbin,” Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh told HT during his visit here to launch the Green India Mission.
On the MoEF panel’s hit list are 115 wetlands in India. These include 25 Ramsar sites – a tag for the most critical water bodies across the globe – covering an area of 677,131 hectares.
Four of these wetlands (Tsomoriri, Wular, Hokarsar and Surinsar-Mansar) are in Jammu and Kashmir, three each in Himachal Pradesh (Pongdam, Chandratal and Renuka), Kerala (Ashtamudi, Sasthamkotta and Vembanad-Kol) and Punjab (Harike, Kanjli and Ropar) and two in Orissa (Bhitarkanika and Chilika).
“Surveys have revealed lagoons such as Chilika and Vembanad aren’t under as much threat as the inland wetlands. Real estate developers are the main culprits in this regard and among the worst affected have been the water bodies in and around Coimbatore,” Ramesh said.
Encroachment and industrial invasion have also affected the health of highly sensitive Ramsar sites such as Deepor Beel on the western edge of Guwahati, Loktak Lake in Manipur and Rudrasagar in Tripura.
“We are weighing complaints vis-à-vis brick kilns and coke factories allowed perilously close to Deepor Beel,” a MoEF official said. Part of this wetland – it sustains more than 400 species of resident and migratory birds – was devoured by a railway track a decade ago.
In the case of Loktak, the world’s only floating wildlife sanctuary, controlled flow of water from a National Hydro Power Corporation project has over the years thinned the phumdis, the floating biomass that sustains rare wildlife species such as the brow-antlered deer. Rudrasagar, on the other hand, has been a victim of silting and resultant paddy cultivation.
Besides restricting such activities, the wetland authority proposes to ban solid waste dumping, conversion of wetlands to non-wetland use, setting up of new industries and expansion of existing industries, and discharge of untreated wastes and effluents from industries.