NEW DELHI: Seeking to protect over 2 lakh wetlands across the country, the Centre has come out with rules to identify and manage these ecologically fragile areas which play an important role in flood control, groundwater recharge, preserving plant varieties, supporting migratory birds and protecting coastlines.
The new rules, notified by the environment ministry on Tuesday, 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.
It also indirectly widens the ambit of permitted activities by inserting the ‘wise use’ principle, giving powers to state-level wetland authorities to decide what can be allowed in larger interest.
The notification says, “The wetlands shall be conserved and managed in accordance with the principle of ‘wise use’ as determined by the Wetlands Authority.”
Though it lists prohibited activities, the ‘wise use’ principle may invite criticism from environmentalists who had earlier objected to it when the ministry put out the draft rules in public domain in March last year.
Many conservationists had then pointed out that the ‘wise use’ principle would lead to arbitrary decisions on the basis of selective understanding of critical issues around the ecologically fragile areas.
The ministry, in its gazette notification, however, noted that the “suggestions and objections” received in response to the draft rules were considered in consultation with state governments and UT administrations.
The prohibited activities under the new rules include any kind of encroachment, setting up of any industry, expansion of existing industries, solid waste dumping, discharge of untreated wastes and effluents from industries, cities, towns, villages and other human settlements, poaching and any construction of a permanent nature except for boat jetties within 50 metres from the mean high flood level observed in the past 10 years
The Centre’s role under the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017, will be restricted to monitoring its implementation by states/UTs, recommending trans-boundary wetlands for notification and reviewing integrated management of selected wetlands under the Ramsar Convention — an international arrangement to preserve identified wetlands.
Decentralisation of wetlands management is seen as the ministry’s effort to sync environmental policies with the government’s ease of doing business norms which are aimed at cutting delays in green clearances for development activities and supporting livelihood issues.
The new rules replace the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010, which had a provision for a super body – Central Wetlands Authority – to decide on all activities relating to wetlands.
The new rules, on the other hand, make the provision of respective state-level wetland authorities with the Centre having a limited role through a national wetlands committee, headed by the Union environment secretary as its chairperson.
Though the country’s space agency ISRO had in 2011 mapped over two lakhs of wetlands across the country, the centre has, so far, notified only 115 wetlands and 63 lakes in 24 states and 2 UTs for conservation and management.
Prominent among those are the wetlands which are included in the list under Ramsar Convention. The list includes Chilika lake areas (Odisha), Wularlake (J&K), Renuka (Himachal Pradesh), Sambhar lake (Rajasthan), Deepor Beel (Assam), East Kolkata wetlands (West Bengal), Nal Sarovar (Gujarat) and Bhoj wetland (Madhya Pradesh) among others