NEW DELHI: The Government of India has notified a new set of rules for preservation of wetlands under which the states will have to identify water bodies to be brought under this category by March next year.
The Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017, notified on September 26, shall replace the earlier set of guidelines which came into effect in 2010.
However, under the 2010 rules, not a single water body was notified as a wetland over and above the ones already recognised as such by the Centre and the Ramsar Convention, defeating its purpose in a way.
The Ramsar Convention, which dates back to 1971, is an intergovernmental treaty aimed at the “conservation and wise use of wetlands”. Indiabecame one of its signatories in 1982.
According to an Environment Ministry notification, wetlands are vital parts of the hydrological cycle.
These are highly productive ecosystems which support rich biodiversity and provide a wide range of ecosystem services such as water storage, water purification, flood mitigation, erosion control and aquifer recharge, it says.
With rapid urbanisation, it has also become a highly contentious subject with wetlands being encroached across the country by land sharks, leading to depleting ground water levels and floods in urban areas.
The new rules seek to shield these sensitive ecosystems from encroachments of any kind, hazardous industrial effluents and discharges from human settlements, solid waste dumping.
A National Wetlands Committee, which will monitor the implementation of the guidelines, and State/Union Territory Wetland Authorities have been created under the rules. The 2010 rules had envisaged the creation of a Central Wetlands Regulatory Authority.
The authorities at the state or Union territory level have been tasked with listing all wetlands in their territories within three months and prepare a list of wetlands to be notified, within six months, among other functions, including developing a comprehensive list of activities to be regulated and permitted within the notified wetlands and their zone of influence.
The authorities, both at the Centre and state level, will have officials from the environment, tourism, water resources and rural and urban development ministries and departments as well as members of the pollution control boards among others.
The issue of wetlands came to the fore more recently after objections were raised to organising of the World Culture Festival by the the Art of Living (AoL) on the Yamuna floodplains in 2016.
The AOL had questioned the use of the term wetland in describing the Yamuna floodplains since it is not notified as one.
According to a study of the Space Application Centre, wetlands cover some 10 million hectares, or a little over three per cent of the Indias geographical area.