Centre proposes controls over wetlands

Regulations not enough to conserve marshes and lakes, say experts

By Sugandh Juneja
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

imageRECOGNIZING the value of ecological services wetlands provided, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has drafted a regulatory framework for their protection.

The draft, released on May 24, notes a third of the country’s wetlands have been wiped out and lists activities prohibited in wetlands and those that would be regulated.

The banned activities include conversion of wetlands for other uses, setting up and expanding industries and dumping untreated waste water. Tapping water and fishing will require prior sanction.

The draft has also proposed classifying wetlands into three categories according to size and location. A Central Wetlands Regulatory Authority would manage class A wetlands, while state- and district-level authorities would regulate B and C category wetlands. Environmentalists are sceptical if the regulatory framework would help prevent encroachment and exploitation of mangroves, lakes and marshes.

For instance, the law vests the regulatory authorities with powers to convert wetlands to other uses. “This is just a precaution we have introduced in case a wetland needs to be converted for national reasons like security,” said Siddharth Kaul, director (scientificconservation and survey) with MoEF. He said if such a conversion takes place, a new wetland would have to be created which would be double the size of the converted one. K S Gopi Sundar of nonprofit International Crane Foundation said he is not sure of the proposal’s feasiblity because wetlands occur naturally and take years to form.

There should be a moratorium on all conversions, he stressed. The regulatory framework allows diversion of wetlands for all uses which was not there in the first draft that was released in 2008, said Priyadarsanan Dharma Rajan, researcher with Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment in Bengaluru. He said the draft should have included a vision for scientific management of wetlands.

The classification of wetlands has also been criticized. “The categorization based on size is arbitrary,” said Sundar. “The definitions need to be clearer. Wetlands cannot be treated as static systems as they have dynamic cycles of 30 to 70 years,” he said. “Wetlands undergo changes periodically and these changes may be drastic enough to change the very nature of wetlands.”

Ritesh Kumar of the non-profit Wetlands International expressed doubts over the ministry’s capacity for implementing the regulatory framework. Kaul said the ministry’s is at present focussed on implementation and capacity building would happen simultaneously.

Not enough protection

  • Allows diversion of wetlands for other uses

  • Regulations overlap existing environmental and forest laws

  • No talk on capacity building and preparing inventory

  • Categorization of wetlands arbitrary, needs clarity



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