Wetlands under NWIA 2011 will be protected too: HC-appointed panel
Wetlands identified under the National Wetland Inventory Atlas (NWIA), 2011 (Maharashtra) will be protected, the Bombay high court (HC)-appointed state wetland grievance redressal committee has said.
The minutes of the meeting, dated January 30, 2020, published on Thursday, issued directions taken by Konkan commissioner Shivaji Daund and other committee members communicated to all district collectors and civic bodies that read, “It is extremely important to protect wetlands forming a part of NWIA as per orders of the Supreme Court and Bombay HC. Irrespective of who has the possession, responsibility of protection will be with district office planning authority. The authority should prevent any debris or garbage dumping and encroachments with help from police and have mobile patrolling system to save mangroves, highlighted the committee chairman.”
The document was accessed by Navi Mumbai resident and activist Sunil Agarwal, who said the decision, comes as a relief for areas like the TS Chanakya and NRI Complex wetlands in Seawoods, Navi Mumbai where a golf course and apartment complexes have been proposed.
However, the member secretary of the committee and deputy conservator of forest (mangrove cell) Neenu Somraj clarified that this was just temporary protection. “Once freshly notified wetlands under the Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017 are notified by the state then this committee will only be accepting complaints related to those wetlands,” said Somraj. “While human-made waterbodies will not be protected, previously identified coastal wetlands under NWIA will be protected under coastal regulation zone (CRZ) norms by the state’s coastal authority and environment department while wetlands in forest zones will be protected by the forest department.”
Member of the committee and petitioner Stalin D contradicted Somraj’s claim. “Irrespective of which rule or classification is imposed, all wetlands in the NWIA will have to be protected.”
Based on a SC order from October 2017 to identify and protect wetlands in India, the Union environment ministry notified the 2017 rules replacing 2010 rules and came out with revised definitions for what makes a wetland. “Nowhere in the SC order has it been mentioned that wetlands in the Atlas will no longer remain protected or de-notified as wetlands,” said Agarwal.
The new rules do not recognise wetlands protected under forest and wildlife laws, CRZ norms, human-made waterbodies, and all salt pans. A separate 2013 petition by Vanashakti for wetland protection being heard by the HC directed all districts to come up with brief documents for each wetland in their jurisdiction. Last month, the state submitted an affidavit identifying total wetland sites had dropped by 65% (from 44,714 wetlands under NWIA to 15,865 proposed sites under new rules) across Maharashtra. Of the 15,865, finally notified wetland numbers will be even lesser based on field verification under new rules.
“The grievance redressal committee itself was formed based on norms prescribed in 2017 rules. It needs to be clarified that only the 2017 rules are enforceable, and there has been no interim order over the last three years that state otherwise. Thus, NWIA 2011 will not be considered and the newly notified wetlands will only be protected,” said Sanjay Sandashiv, undersecretary, state environment department.