Failure to conserve wetlands adds to growing water crisis
India has about 757,060 wetlands, with a total wetland area of 15.3 million hectares, accounting for nearly 4.63% of the total geographical area of the country.Updated: Jul 13, 2019 07:13 IST
None of the 29 states and 7 Union territories has notified their wetlands, which are critical for groundwater recharge and storing flood waters during runoff events, as mandated under Wetland Rules 2017, shows government data.
According to these rules, all state governments had to notify the wetlands to be conserved by September 2018.
If wetlands are not notified, they remain vulnerable to encroachment or industrial pollution, which could, in turn, restrict rainwater flow and groundwater recharge.
India has about 757,060 wetlands, with a total wetland area of 15.3 million hectares, accounting for nearly 4.63% of the total geographical area of the country.
Anand Arya, birder and environmentalist, had filed a query under the Right to Information Act, asking for the list of wetlands which have been notified or will be notified under the Wetland Rules 2017.
In its reply dated June 3, 2019, the environment ministry said no state government had uploaded any data pertaining to wetlands on the central government’s portal.
Communication between states and the Centre uploaded on the National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Eco-Systems (NPCA) portal shows that only some states have initiated the process.
For example, a letter from Andaman and Nicobar government states that the forest department will be submitting a list; some states have only submitted the minutes of the meeting of state wetland authorities.
Even Tamil Nadu, which is facing a severe water crisis this year, has only submitted a document pertaining to constitution of a state level wetland authority. The West Bengal government has submitted that its wetlands authority has allowed the construction of an elevated corridor over the east Kolkata wetlands in “public interest”. The state didn’t, however, submit a list of wetlands; Bihar has identified some wetlands.
“Some states may have started notifying their wetlands. We have to check those details,” said CK Mishra, secretary, environment ministry.
Chennai, which is facing severe water scarcity this summer, has lost most of the 600 water bodies it had until the 1980s, resulting in the loss of natural water recharge and drainage systems, the Centre for Science and Environment had found out after the devastating 2017 floods in the city.
In the last monsoon, India had received 91% of the long period average (LPA). LPA is the average rainfall received across the country as a whole during the southwest monsoon, for a 50-year period.
India Meteorological Department’s standard precipitation index (SPI) data for June to September last year showed that nearly half the country was mildly dry even at the end of the monsoon season.
Yet, conservation and revival of wetlands which includes swamps, bogs, marshes, deltas which would have acted as a buffer for the drought and flood events this year was not taken up, shows data put up on the NPCA portal.
Experts said wetlands can be a “buffer for extreme climate change impacts”. “Wetlands are like ecological kidneys of the surface water system. They have an ability to purify water, recharge groundwater; they have micro-climate zones around them and a distinct ecosystem of their own,” said Shashank Shekhar, assistant professor of Geology at Delhi University.
“If you look at the climate change scenarios projected, rains may be in same quantity but there is a likelihood of an increase in intense short spells. In that case we need to store surface runoff in wetlands’ wetlands can be the best buffer for extreme climate change impacts,” he added.
Arya had moved the Supreme Court in February last year seeking information on the implementation of the Wetland Rules 2017, which decentralise wetlands management by giving states powers to not only identify and notify wetlands within their jurisdictions but also keep a watch on prohibited activities.
“The central government has not merely delegated, but has completely abdicated its functions under the Environment Protection Act, 1986,” the petition said. Arya also pointed out that no wetlands were conserved even under Wetland Rules 2010.