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‘Mumbai lost 71% of its wetlands in 44 yrs’

By Badri Chatterjee, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON JAN 31, 2020 12:52 AM IST

Among 22 Indian cities, Mumbai has lost the maximum number of wetlands – 71% – between 1970 and 2014, according to a national study by a non-profit group, Wetlands International South Asia (WISA). The wetland loss from 4.58 sqkm to 1.3 sqkm was a result of the increase in built-up area to 1074 sqkm from 149 sqkm, stated the study.

“Wetlands in Maharashtra, especially Mumbai, are threatened by high level of water pollution and solid waste dumping, combined with developmental threats. Sites are either not properly governed, management plans are missing or exact area demarcation has not been done, which is impacting the wetlands, thereby water security,” Ritesh Kumar, director, WISA, said.

Other major cities that witnessed wetland loss include Ahmedabad (57%), Bengaluru (56%), Hyderabad (55%), Delhi NCR (38%), and Pune (37%). The study analysed published land use and land cover data over 44 years and calculated the reduction using satellite images.

The ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) has identified the current threats to major wetlands in India. “Encroachments, poor water quality, and developmental pressures on urban wetlands are major threats,” said Manju Pandey, joint secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC). “We need corrective measures such as regular monitoring to ensure conservation goes hand-in-hand with development.”

The latest data from the state environment department, which was submitted before the Bombay high court (HC) in an affidavit on Wednesday, showed 57 wetland areas have been verified across Mumbai suburban (48) and city (9). Of these, the state environment department is yet to notify wetlands under the Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017. This is a sharp drop from 475 wetlands identified in Mumbai under the National Wetland Atlas Maharashtra state, with 412 wetlands in Mumbai suburbs and 63 in south Mumbai. “The identification and notification of wetlands is taking time as different states are interpreting the rules differently. While manmade wetlands will not be notified under the Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017, it doesn’t mean that these sites are not going to be recognised as wetlands or that they don’t need to be protected. It is just that they would be notified under different rules and not under the wetland rules. We are writing to these states clarifying these issues,” said Pandey.

In 2014, the Bombay high court (HC) banned reclamation and construction on wetlands after environment group Vanashakti filed a petition to protect them. In September 2017, the MoEFCC notified new Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules 2017 replacing the 2010 version. The new rules disallow industrial development, garbage dumping or discharge of wastewater at wetland sites while derecongising wetlands in coastal regulation zones and salt pans.

“The rate of declining wetlands between 1970 and 2014 is accurate, but over the past seven years, the rate of decline has come down drastically with about 20% wetland loss recorded annually,” said Stalin D, director, NGO Vanashakti. “The MoEFCC deliberately created confusion by changing wetland rules to help the builder lobby open up these areas for construction.”

The state’s wetland protection committee said the HC orders had created more awareness among citizens. “A dedicated mangrove cell, district level committees, and proper tracking of each complaint filed by alert citizens have helped reduce the rate of wetland destruction in Mumbai,” said Neenu Somraj, member secretary of the committee.

On August 26, 2018, the MoEFCC had directed states to prepare a list of wetlands for priority restoration in the next five years and asked them to submit their respective integrated management plan. While 130 wetlands were identified by all states, the MoEFCC proposed the concept of ‘Wetland Health Card’ for each of those 130 wetlands. Two wetlands from Mumbai, Vihar and Powai Lakes, were rated A+ and D – the best and worst in Maharashtra. While Vihar is located within the boundaries of a sanctuary, Powai is surrounded by encroachments, fallen prey to illegal fishing and high water pollution.

“The first phase has been completed and management plans for restoration ready. Now, the second phase will begin, wherein, two wetlands from each district will be proposed by each state for priority restoration,” said Pandey.

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