No National or State Wetlands Authority
No Wetland Rules for 4 yrs
The recent Chennai Flood Disaster of Dec 2015 and the Jammu and Kashmir Flood disaster of Sept 2014 have underlined that Wetlands are important not only for biodiversity & livelihoods of millions, but they are an integral mechanism for flood control and regulation in Rural and Urban India.
India is losing Wetlands at an alarming rate, as much as 38% in a decade (1991-2001). However, for the past four years, there has been a complete regulatory vacuum around the country’s wetlands, despite the Notification of Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules with much fanfare in 2010.
After Wetlands Rules 2010 were notified under the Environment Protection Act, it was hoped that there will be clarity and direction in Protection of Wetlands in the country. The rules were notified after discussions with hundreds of stakeholders from across the country. (Although Notified Rules were entirely different that the Draft circulated for comments!) Wetlands Rules included constituting a National Wetlands Authority, Restricting and Regulating activities in notified Wetlands. States were supposed to recommend wetlands for notification through a Brief Document.
However, 6 yrs after the Notification of Wetlands Rules, today there is no National Wetlands Authority
In fact, National Wetlands Authority, formed post Wetlands Rules2010, has never met since Apr 2012. The term of the Authority has ended, but no new authority has not been constituted.
When SANDRP discussed this with the MoEF&CC, we were told that this is due to integration of National Lake Conservation Program (NLCP) and National Wetlands Conservation Program (NWCP) into a National Program on Conservation of Aquatic Ecosystems (NPCA). This integration was announced in 2013, and should have been notified promptly thereafter. New NPCA Guidelines mean that that the entire Wetland (Protection) Rules will be redrafted (referred to as ‘Revisiting Wetlands Rules 2010’).
But the NPCA Guidelines are still not formulated.
The responsibility for framing Guidelines was given to IIT Roorkee, but the Guidelines they put forth were unacceptable and have been rejected. Now a different agency is working on NPCA Guidelines, but there is no information in open domain about the status, what they will include and indeed, when will they be put in open domain for consultations.
None of this has happened for the past 3 years. There is no clear roadmap as to WHEN this will happen.
So as the world celebrates World Wetlands Day 2016, in India there is a regulatory vacuum around wetlands. This includes Ramsar Wetlands, Wetlands of National Importance as well as Interstate wetlands. We have very little to celebrate.
Some states have constituted State Wetlands Authorities. However, a member of Maharashtra’s State Wetland Authority told SANDRP that he has no idea about the status of this Authority under the Forest Department, it has never met and there has been no communication from the State Government with the members of the authority about its status.
Even as the country is losing its wetlands at an alarming rate (38% loss in a decade), when foaming and burning wetlands and lakes are making headlines (e.g. Bangalore), and even as the importance of wetlands in being highlighted as irreplaceable flood regulators after the Chennai & Kashmir Deluge, our wetlands are ungoverned and unprotected.
- Guidelines of NPCA need to be notified soon after wide public consultations.
- Wetlands (Conservation and Protection) Rules need to be notified urgently through an open and participatory process, which builds on experiences from across the country and should not be a closed-door exercise.
- It should also be added that National Wetlands Authority cannot be done away with, if at all, it needs to be strengthened and made accountable. The capacity of the state wetlands authority also needs to be enhanced and functioning of all the authorities need to be transparent, accountable and participatory.
- We hope that the past mistakes are avoided and Wetlands (Protection and Conservation) Rules come into force as soon as possible, building on community governance of wetlands. We cannot afford to lose our wetlands anymore.
- In the meanwhile, the National Wetlands Authority needs to be immediately constituted under the 2010 Rules so that there is a some regulation in place while the new rules are formed and new authority is formulated.
Our track record of wetlands protection is dismal, even when the Wetlands rules were in place, there was little effective regulation of wetlands in India. In a changing climate, wetlands play a critical role in achieving better adaptation, besides integral providing goods and services like drinking water supply, flood cushioning, fisheries, Carbon sequestering, biodiversity habitat, coastal protection, groundwater recharge, cultural and aesthetic values, etc.
We are losing our Wetlands rapidly, but our Government seems to refuse acknowledging their importance, as it clear from the track record and regulatory vacuum.
World Wetlands Day 2016 provides the sorely needed reminder to protect our Wetlands.
POST SCRIPT: Consider the emptiness of the government statement on World Wetlands Day as can be seen from the following reports:
Environment Ministers Message on World Wetlands Day Wetlands for our Future Sustainable Livelihoods” is this Years Theme
The following is the text of the message of Minister of State (Independent Charge) of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Shri Prakash Javadekar, on the occasion of World Wetlands Day, being celebrated tomorrow, February 2, 2016:
The World Wetlands Day, celebrated on 2nd February each year around the world to mark the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands in the city of Ramsar in Iran in 1971, is a day to promote, create awareness and ensure positive & affirmative action for conservation of wetlands.
Water is life, and wetlands are the life support systems that ensure functioning of the water cycle. Wetlands help recharge groundwater aquifers, cleanse polluted waters, protect shorelines and act as sponges to mitigate floods. The extensive food chain and biological diversity in wetlands make them biological supermarkets. Wetlands are valuable as sources, sink and transformers of a multitude of biological, chemical and genetic material. In addition, wetlands have special attributes as cultural heritage of humanity, and have deep connections with our beliefs and practices. They are indeed an important part of our natural wealth and liquid assets”.
The theme of World Wetlands Day this year is Wetlands for our Future Sustainable Livelihoods. The theme highlights the value of wetlands in securing local livelihoods through activities as fishing, rice farming, tourism, and water provision. Ever since civilizations began, wetlands have played an important role in development of human society. The wise use principle of wetland management encapsulates the linkages between wetland functioning and livelihoods, on sustainable basis guided by ecosystem approaches.
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change will continue to accord high priority to conservation and wise use of wetlands in the country. The National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Ecosystems (NPCA) provides the policy framework and support to State Governments for integrated management of wetlands. The Ministry has also initiated the process of revising the existing regulatory framework on wetlands to enable a greater role and ownership by State Governments in management of wetlands, particularly as water and land are State subjects. The State Wetland Authorities are envisaged to be entrusted the role of management and regulation of wetlands within their jurisdiction.
In a strategic step towards increasing the capacity of wetland managers in integrated and holistic management, upgrading the existing Wetland Research and Training Centre of Chilika Development Authority at Barkul, Odisha into the National Capacity Development Centre for Wetlands is also being envisaged.
This year the World Wetlands Day is being celebrated by the Ministry, in collaboration with the Government of West Bengal at Sunderbans, one of the largest single block of estuarine mangrove forests in the world, which provides habitat to numerous plant and animal species, including the Royal Bengal Tiger.
The Ministry looks forward to working with State Governments, experts, NGOs, private sector and concerned citizens from all walks of life to secure these natural resource endowments.”
States to get greater role in wetland management
The Union government has begun revising the existing regulatory framework on wetlands across the country in a bid to enable a greater role and ownership by State governments in their management.
In a statement on the eve of World Wetlands Day, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said on Monday: “The Environment Ministry will continue to accord high priority to conservation and wise use of wetlands, and as water and land are State subjects, greater role and ownership by State governments in the management of wetlands will be ensured.”
He said the National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Ecosystems (NPCA) provides the policy framework and support to the States.
“The State Wetland Authorities will be tasked with managing wetlands within their jurisdiction,” he said.
Mr. Javadekar said that in a strategic step towards increasing the capacity of wetland managers in integrated and holistic management, upgrading the existing Wetland Research and Training Centre of Chilika Development Authority at Barkul in Odisha into the National Capacity Development Centre for wetlands is also being envisaged by the Ministry.
The theme of World Wetlands Day this year is ‘Wetlands for our Future – Sustainable Livelihoods’.