Supreme Court admits petition challenging new rules for wetlands
The Supreme Court on Thursday issued notices to the Centre admitting a plea challenging the constitutional validity of Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017.
The SC bench comprising justice Deepak Gupta and justice Aniruddha Bose issued notices to the Union environment ministry and ministry of law and justice based on a writ petition filed by Vanashakti, a non-government organisation (NGO).
The writ petition, presented before the apex court on Monday, sought striking down of the wetland rules in its entirety, and urged the court to inventorise and protect 2,01,503 wetlands of more than 2.25 hectare in size covered in the National Wetland Atlas (India) — a document developed by the Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad under the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in 2011.
Based on a previous SC order to identify and protect wetlands in India, the Union environment ministry in September 2017 notified the new rules replacing the earlier 2010 law and revised the definition of wetland. The 2017 rules excluded previously identified wetlands in coastal regulation zones, salt pans, forests, and human-made water bodies, and directed all states to initiate a fresh exercise to identify and document wetlands based on the new definition.
Vanashakti’s petition challenged the rules on the grounds that it arbitrarily excludes a number of wetlands and that it allegedly gave unfettered powers to the Centre to carry out reclamation and destruction of wetlands as per its own discretion. The plea also challenges the Centre’s delegation powers to states to conduct a fresh wetland identification exercise.
“The 2017 Rules drastically dilute the 2010 rules and makes the current laws a toothless legislation having no real protective measures. Protection of all of our last remaining wetlands is the dire need of the hour,” said Zaman Ali, counsel representing Vanashakti.
The writ petition shall be heard along with other matters concerning wetlands pending since 2001, the SC said on Thursday.
HT had, on January 31, reported that India lost nearly one-third of its natural wetlands to urbanisation, agricultural expansion and pollution over the last four decades, according to a study by NGO Wetlands International South Asia (WISA). Among south Asian countries, India has maximum wetlands — a total of 7,57,062 — covering around 4.6% geographical area of the country, and it is home to 37 Ramsar sites or wetlands designated to be of international importance, according to WISA.
“Wetlands will help tackle the possible extreme rains and extreme droughts in a tropical country like India in the coming years. Thus, it is crucial to protect the existing and freshly identified wetlands,” added Ali.
An official from the Union environment ministry said, “We have not received the notice yet. However, new wetlands rules were made based on the SC’s directives to protect wetlands larger than 2.25 hectares across the country for water security and flood control.”
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