Enabling state machinery to protect Delhi’s wetlands: Operationalising state wetland authority

Protecting Delhi’s wetlands will not only improve the environmental quality of the city but will also enhance local water resources

By Dhruv Pasricha
Published: Friday 07 January 2022

Delhi is home to more than 1,000 lakes, wetlands and ponds — but most of these are threatened by rampant encroachment (both planned and unplanned), pollution through dumping of solid waste and construction debris and disposal of untreated sewage and septage.  

Many such water bodies are not documented in official records such as the Delhi Master Plan or the land records under a constant threat of being developed as real estate enclaves.

Protecting Delhi’s wetlands will not only improve the environmental quality of the city but will also enhance local water resources and develop the city’s water resilience for the future. The Delhi Wetland Authority was constituted in April 2019 according to the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017.

It is responsible for the protection of wetlands and empowered with the preparation of an action plan for their restoration and rejuvenation. KS Jayachandran as member secretary has been instrumental in the functioning of the Delhi Wetland Authority.

He had attended an online training programme on urban lake management in 2020 by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based non-profit.

A technical committee of experts was formed under the authority, with members comprising Madhu Verma, World Resources Institute; Suresh Kumar Rohilla, CSE; Manu Bhatnagar, INTACH; Ritesh Kumar, Wetlands International South Asia along with KS Jayachandran.

The major issues taken up by the authority are listing of wetlands, preparation of brief documents and action plans, recommendation of wetlands for regulation and notification. Initially, a total of 10 water bodies were shortlisted; out of which Action Plan for seven waterbodies is under preparation.

These are Sanjay Lake, Welcome Jheel, Tikri Khurd Lake, Smriti Van (Vasant Kunj), Bhalswa Lake, Hauz Khas Lake and Smriti Van Lake (Kondli).

The authority has put in place the following framework for managing wetlands in Delhi.

Step 1: Preparation of GIS-based inventory of wetlands

The authority has identified 1,040 waterbodies in Delhi, which have been listed and given UID numbers. Out of these, 1,011 wetlands are mapped on the GIS platform and the inventory of water bodies (district-wise and ownership-wise) is in the public domain.

Step 2: Preparation and review of brief document

The authority has prepared a comprehensive template for a brief document that includes data on site characteristics, biodiversity, ecosystem services, pre-existing rights and privileges, present and potential threats, activities to be prohibited, regulated and permitted.

District-wise grievance committees have also been formed. As of October 2021, brief document for 539 waterbodies has been prepared. Based on these, prioritisation of wetlands will be done, followed by notification.  

Step 3: Preparation of action plan

Action plans are administrative documents that will contain the conservation and restoration strategies for the wetlands, to be implemented by land agencies. Action plans for 603 waterbodies have been prepared as of October 2021.

Step 4: Assistance for land-owning agencies

Land agencies are provided technical guidance through a resource team, hand-holding workshops and a dedicated YouTube channel with training videos. The following criteria for benchmarking of a healthy wetland is developed by the authority:

  • Water spread in lean period to be maintained at least 60 per cent of the high-flood level
  • At least 50 per cent of dry revenue area be afforested wherever possible
  • Monitoring spread of aquatic invasive species
  • Waterbody should not be filled using groundwater
  • Wastewater inflow, if not diverted, to be treated through natural methods before entering the waterbody
  • No foul smell from the water body
  • Aquatic life should be present
  • Surface water quality to meet Class C of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) norms

The authority will also provide guidance on restoration techniques and is developing a manual of low-cost restoration techniques and empanelment of restoration agencies.

Step 5: Preparation of Catchment Area Protocol

The authority has prepared a template for Catchment Area Protocol which includes demarcation of ecosystem boundaries on the GIS map and on the ground, which includes the extent of the catchment, floodplains and water-covered lands and drainage lines. Identification of breakage points like encroachments, land-use change, etc. should also be done under this protocol.

The authority has also recommended monitoring of water quality of the wetlands. Land agencies are required to conduct a monthly assessment of water quality wherever possible or at least eight samples to be tested in a year according to the Indicative Guidelines for Restoration of Water Bodies by CPCB.

The authority has realised the role of stakeholder engagement in the sustainable management of Delhi’s wetlands. It has identified more than 25 wetland mitras to bridge state and non-state actors together for the protection of wetlands.

It has also recommended allocating responsibilities to Resident Welfare Association Committees for upkeep of wetlands and their surroundings. Various online training workshops have been held that have trained more than 800 school teachers on wetland values and the formation of 2,000 eco-clubs.

Various categories of wetland awards have been launched: Youth leadership, scientific research, promoting awareness and local stewardship.

The authority has documented more than 240 waterbodies that have been encroached and have recommended setting up a special task force to make sure time-bound encroachment removal plans by land agencies are in coordination with districts.

All districts have been told to identify ‘Model Ponds’ and engage with stakeholders for the protection and restoration of water bodies. Moreover, the authority has planned to include wetlands in the land records of the state, which will provide statutory protection to wetlands that cannot be notified under Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017.

The Delhi Wetland Authority plans to provide recommendations to the Government of NCT of Delhi for notification by end of March 2022 and is expecting final notification by end of June 2022.

Jayachandran has been adjudged Water Champion 2021 at CSE — School of Water and Waste’s second Alumni Impact Workshop cum Masterclass on Capacity Building Initiative for Citywide Water and Sanitation Management. He shared his learnings from the CSE online training on urban lake management, and how certain dimensions on aspects of brief document, community engagement and preparation on water bodies have been incorporated in the enabling framework.

He has also been part of CSE’s webinar on Managing Urban Waterbodies for Making Cities Water-sensitive and Improving River Health, showcasing the progress made by the authority.

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