In the picture-Drying Wular lake in J&K; Mass dish death due to pollution in Ulsoor Lake, Karnataka; Filling up of Wetlands in Maharashtra and Waste dumping on Deepor Beel in Assam
Wetlands are vital for human survival. They are among the world’s most productive eco systems. Wetlands are crucial for the survival of variety of plants and animals. They are indispensable for the countless services ranging from freshwater supply, food, sustainable livelihood options and groundwater recharge. They also host a huge variety of life, protect our coastlines, provide natural sponges against river flooding and store carbon to regulate climate change.
Here is an account on status of India’s wetland in 2016 underlining their ecological importance and urgent need of conservation of Wetlands across the country.
Wetlands 2016: North India
Jammu and Kashmir Wular lake one of Asia’s largest Wetland, over past many decades has lost about 40 per cent of its area to pollution, siltation and farming expansion. Since 1911, the area of Wular Wetland, identified as one of the 26 Ramsar sites in India, has shrunk from 157 sq km to 86 sq km. 80,000 locals are reported to be beneficiary of Wular lake ecosystem. Due to deterioration of lake poverty rate in dependent villages have shoot up to 50 percent which is five times the state average.
Scientists have warned that any efforts to repair Wular would be futile unless issues in its catchment are addressed. Notably at a time when Government has chocked Walur lake conservation funding, a small boy Bilal Ahmad Dar has been striving to keep the lake clean by removing a lot of solid waste on daily basis.
At the same time, the number of houseboats on the Dal and Nigeen Lakes has reportedly gone down due to difficulties in securing renovation permissions from authorities. Fearing extinction threats, the houseboat owners have claimed that the number of houseboats has dipped from 2,000 to less than 750 in Dal and Nigeen lakes.
Following Srinagar High Court (HC) orders, Government had planned phase-wise relocation of houseboats. But the owners have reported of many houseboats as too old and weak for relocation. As per another report, the single most cause of the Dal’s deterioration is the blocking of its natural drainage system as a result of the filling in of the Nallah Mar in the 1970s. The stream was fed by Dal and in turn helped the circulation of the lake’s water. The process of relocating Dal dwellers has been exceedingly slow. Despite all measures, Dal lake has shown little sign of being on the road to recovery.
The failure of the Government to notify Narkara wetland in Sri Nagar as Wildlife Protected Area has reportedly hampered its conservation. Spread over 8,000 kanals, Narkara Wetland has been affected by illegal construction and wide scale poaching of water birds.
There are 8 to 9 Wetlands listed as Wildlife Protection area in the state but despite being protected legally, they have shrunk greatly over the last 50 years. The wetlands have largely fallen prey to agricultural activity and construction of residential complexes. Their decline has also robbed millions of migratory birds of their winter habitat. On the other hand, high pollution levels and blatant encroachments have adversely damaged Wetlands’ natural vegetation affecting scores of farmers and fishermen of their livelihoods.
Similarly, the Shalbugh wetland in Ganderbal district has virtually turned into a wasteland due to the careless approach of the Wildlife Department. Not a single bird had visited the wetland in 2016.
Uttar Pradesh Wetlands in Bil Akbarpur, Datawali and Dadri area in Gautam Budh Nagar which are home to several wildlife species including Sarus the State bird of Uttar Pradesh (UP) have been facing threat due to increasing encroachment by real estate projects. Surprisingly the administration has reported of 16 wetlands in the district in 2009 but reduced the numbers to a mere 6 in 2011. The Center in parliament in June, 2013 stated that a wetland at Bil Akbarpur had been infringed and sold to builder in violation of environmental rules. Following this, a noted activist Vikrant Tongad filed a petition in NGT in August 2013 demanding their protection.
Haryana Similarly, the encroachment of lakes in Aravali catchment has been attributed as key reason behind the massive flooding of Gurgaon in 2016. As per reports, over the years the area of the Ghata lake had been reduced from 370 acres to a mere 2 acres. Interestingly, Gurgaon had 388 water bodies, out of which only a handful like Basai lake, Sultanpur lake and Dumdama lake are left. The state government is aware of this situation and its dangerous impact on the city but has done very little to revive the lakes.
Rajasthan Experts in Udaipur city has reported of basic discrepancies in the National Wetland Atlas which was put prepared in 2011. Activists have also raised concerns over Center’s new draft wetland rules claiming that it had excluded restrictions on activities within wetlands and penalizing provisions for the violation of wetland rules. It had been also revealed that India has identified no wetlands for preservation in the past 5 years.
Gujarat As per a report, Wetlands were spread along 1,600 km coastline of the Gujarat making the State with maximum (22.7 percent) wetland area in the country. However the State Government had failed to constitute a Wetland Conservation Committee mandated under the National Wetland Conservation Programme (NWCP). Surprisingly, Gujarat has not taken up any wetland conservation effort in absence of rules and regulations.
By manipulations polluting industrial units were set up on or close to wetlands. In one such case, a company was reportedly found setting up a common hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal facility (TSDF) on Vadgam Wetlands in Anand district. Over past many years, the site had reportedly emerged as an important water body for migratory birds. Located in estuary region of Sabarmati river, the wetland was reported to be good for prawn cultivation. Activists fear that allowing waste treatment plant would damage the ecosystem.
Similarly Khajadiya Bird Sanctuary, a prominent wetland, located 10 km from Jamnagar has been turned into a picnic spot. Rampant construction inside the sanctuary in the name of beautification and chopping vegetation has also affected the natural nesting sites. As a result, very few migratory birds visited the place that once was a paradise for bird watchers with thousands of flamingoes, pelicans and cranes flock registering their presence.
Goa Like Gujarat, Goa Government has also been reluctant towards protection of the Wetlands. Though the draft state water policy had drawn up a list of water bodies but it failed to mention the important wetlands in sustaining fish, aquatic biota and groundwater recharge. Further more, no follow-up has been done to consider the measures to prevent pollution or encroachments of wetlands in the State.
On the contrary the Government agencies were reportedly spending crores of rupees on concretization of lakes and water bodies under beautification and flood protection schemes. Citing adverse impact on aquatic life, ecosystems, experts have demanded Government to study the impact of concretization of lakes. Notably, in 2009 Union Environment Ministry had included Carambolim lake, Chorao island, Anjunem and Salaulim reservoirs as important wetlands of Goa.
Maharashtra Like other North Indian States, dumping of waste had been reported as prime reason behind destruction of Wetlands. In one such incident, offenders had dumped tonss of construction debris in a water body between the mangroves in Sector 34, Nerul in Mumbai. Demanding action against illegal dumping environmental NGO Vanashakti alleged that the dumping was happening in violation of HC order to protect wetlands.
Similarly alleging unlawful wetland reclamation by the Indian Navy Station Hamla, in Malad, local residents decided to file a petition in Bombay High Court. Residents had reported of dumper truck and excavator machine being seen dumping debris in the pond. There were also many reports citing growing abuse of wetlands and Mangrooves as parking lot in Dahisar and Borivli.
In July 2016, construction debris and broken vehicles were found dumped on a one-acre wetland patch close to the Mithi river in Bandra area. Surprisingly the site was hardly 1 km away from the state mangrove cell headquarters.
In 2005, the Bombay HC had banned construction within 50-m of mangroves across the State. Hearing another PIL, the HC in 2014 banned reclamation and construction on wetlands.
West Bengal For past many years, the famous East Kolkata Wetlands that worked as free sewage works, a fertile aquatic garden and defense against floods have been subjected to immense degradation due to growing developmental pressures. Unplanned urbanization and unregulated industrialization have been reportedly causing irreversible damage to the unique ecosystem. As per a report, encroachment of East Kolkata Wetlands has become a regular affair. The Art of Living a spiritual organization headed by famed Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has been accused of raising a multistory building on the ecologically fragile East Kolkata Wetlands. Polluting industries like plastic recycling and leather tanneries have illegally mushroomed on Wetlands banks. Seeing the deterioration of wetlands, experts have opposed the new draft wetland rules for lacking a time frame needed for the identification and notification of wetlands.
Assam Suggesting complete revision of new wetland rules, activists in the state have opposed the proposed Draft Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules 2016. Comparing the revised Draft with the Wetland Rules 2010, they have found that the new Wetland Rules offered limited protective measures for Assam’s wetlands. In other significant move, experts in state have recommended declaration of Diplai Beel and the Laoti Beel in the Bodoland Territorial Council area as the second and third Ramsar site of Assam. Signifying their importance, they revealed Diplai Beel as important breeding ground of the fish-fauna, local and residential water bird species, besides having a rich biodiversity as it had connection with the Brahmaputra River.
Meanwhile, the Deepor Beel the first Ramsar Site of the State has become a dump yard slowly choking the ecologically important wetlands. The entire Kamrup city’s garbage is being regularly dumped on the edge of the ancient lake. Apart from this, the lake’s link with Brahmaputra river has been disrupted by illegal and unmindful construction. At the same time, enormous amount of untreated sewage has found its way to lake infesting it with water hyacinth. Interestingly Deepor Beel located south-west of Guwahati city, is a permanent freshwater lake. In 2002, it was selected for Ramsar site because of the richness of avian fauna.
Odisha A report has revealed that pollution in 36 (out of 39 in the city) water bodies of silk city Berhampur have reached an alarming level in 2016. The data from Pollution Board has also found the three ponds Khodasingh Dhoba Pond, Balunkeswar temple pond and Kamapalli tank are as the most polluted ponds in the city.
Manipur According to the Wire report the introduction of Loktak Lake (Protection) Act, 2006 has affected the livelihoods of thousands of fishermen as the act had prohibited them from fishing in the core area of the lake. In 2011 most of the fishermen were removed from the lake by the Loktak Development Authority (LDA), after a report by Wetlands International claimed detrimental fishing practices as a cause behind degradation of the lake. The local people have been protesting the eviction plan since then. Notably Loktak, the largest freshwater lake in Northeast India is spread over 286 sq km across three districts of Imphal, West Bishnupur and Thoubal.
Andhra Pradesh Environmental activists have voiced their anxiety about destruction of wetlands in the name of development. They have termed the wetlands found in Krishna, Nellore West and East Godavari districts as the “lungs and kidneys” of state. According to the Andhra Pradesh Wetland Atlas, wetlands in Nellore, Krishana, East and West Godavari districts comprised of 2998, 1764, 1743, 1972 ha area.
Telangana Incidents of illegal construction within the lakes area were also reported from Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC). Due to this, Nagireddy Lake in Yapral, spread over 32 acres, has shrunk to 19.5 acres in the past two years. Notably Lake Protection Committee in 2015, had identified 168 water bodies in the GHMC limits, but officials had taken no step to remove the encroachments. Irrigation Department had sanctioned Rs 2.2 crore for the lake development in 2014 under ‘Mission Kakatiya’. Residents alleged that the lake protection authorities hand in glove with local leaders swindled the funds and did nothing for water bodies’ development.
Karnataka Bengaluru’s lakes, have of late been more in the news for their growing abuse and degradation. There were several discrepancies found in the number of encroached lakes recorded by Government set up committee pointing towards the apathy of wetlands in State.
Another report claimed that two-thirds of Bengaluru lakes had been encroached by private builders and developers, who have built massive offices for multinationals. The Lakebed Encroachment Committee have also reported that 11,000 acres of lakes from 1545 lakes in both Bengaluru urban and rural districts as encroached. Bangalore Development Authority had allegedly allocated 60,000 plots by encroaching lakes in the city.
Once admired for their unique, inter-connected design, which prevented flooding and helped recharge the groundwater, lakes in Bengaluru had largely been converted into a home for sewage, industrial effluents and weeds, the lakes in Bengaluru have lost their original importance. Out of more than 800 lakes that once dotted India’s IT capital, only about 200 had survived.
According to another report, due to absence of a sewage network in the Bengaluru city about 42 per cent of the total waste water generated was getting into the lakes. Sources revealed that Bengaluru Sewerage Board was able to treat only 720 million litres per day (MLD), out of about 1,240 MLD of sewage generated in the City.
Possibly because of this thousands of dead fish were washed ashore at Ulsoor lake (spread over 50 hectares) raising concerns about water pollution in the city. Authorities were clueless behind the mass fish killing but experts confirmed that sewage from the drain flowing into the lake had depleted oxygen levels. The incident occurred even as there was a growing concern by environmentalists over polluted lakes, exemplified by the thick froth and flames from the Yamlur lake that caused ripples in the city in 2015.
According to another report Kalkere, Rampura and Yelemallappa Chetty lakes had turned into hot spots for dumping construction debris from north and east Bengaluru over a year. With around 20 per cent of these lakes gone, officials have conceded that dumping exercise was the standard method to “morph” the topography of nala lands, Wetlands and lakebeds for encroachment.
Sources have also revealed that 70 per cent of the water bodies in Mysuru and Nanjangud areas were affected by encroachment, inflow of sewage water and dumping of solid waste. As per the report, the capacity of water bodies created during the rule of the Maharajas of Mysore, too were shrinking due to increased anthropogenic activities.
On a positive note, over the last decade Rachenahalli lake and Jakkur Lake in north Bangalore had reportedly been revived by the Bangalore Development Authority. These lakes were acting as sink for fishermen and providing natural resources to people living around it. Similarly Bharat Electronics Limited had planned to build a 10 MLD STP to rejuvenate the dying 50-hectare Doddabommasandra lake in the north of the city.
In a similar effort local community had launched a campaign to rejuvenate Kundalahalli lake. The wetland was threatened by a 100-foot high “hillock” of garbage that continued to grow. In a first, home guards were deployed to stop the illegal dumping of construction debris in the lake area. Officials of the Bruhad Bangalore Mahanagara Palike had dug deep trenches to stop waste from entering the lake. Such joint action by citizen groups, institutions and the government could be key to the preservation of the remaining lakes of Bengaluru.
Kerala Highlighting the risk faced by wetlands, scientist have claimed that Kerala lacked scientific demarcation of wetlands. They also point out that a large number of development projects in Kochi have come up on wetlands, including the LNG Terminal at Puthu Vypeen, Kochi metro, NH bypass etc. According to them, the boundaries of Vembanad Lake – a Ramsar site had not been specifically notified resulting in shrinking and gradual disappearance of important aquatic species. Same was the case with most of the wetlands despite periodical surveys by the Government. Signifying wetland’s role in protection from climate change impacts, environmentalists had also warned against reclaiming wetlands and destroying mangroves.
The existence of hundreds of small and big wetlands in the north Kerala region faced threat with rampant encroachment and land conversion attempts. Of the 100 wetlands, 17 important areas identified in Kozhikode, Kannur, Wayanad, Kasaragod and Malappuram districts have been severely damaged due to unregulated development and disposal untreated effluents. Likewise, acres of wetlands in Kottuli and surrounding areas were on the verge of extinction due to ongoing filling works. Revenue officials appeared hardly concerned about the issue. Local activists revealed that the work was carried out with the backup of some of the prominent political leaders and the city Corporation.
In an important step, local vigilante committees were formed at Thengilakkadavu in Mavoor panchayat to fight the illegal dumping of sand waste in wetlands. Similarly the Pallichal panchayat in Thiruvananthapuram collectively revived a three-acre pond which was lying in complete neglect. A few years ago the pond was filled with polluted water when panchayat decided to revive it in order to alleviate the repeated drought conditions every summer.
Tamil Nadu Seven months since the disastrous floods, Chennai has been reported as repeating the mistakes by loosing the remaining wetlands in the city to encroachment and pollution. None other than State Government agencies have been found filling the Pallikaranai marshland in Sholinganallur. Concerned groups have found that the move would unleash series of construction on the marshland. Similarly, Ennore Creek, the dynamic brackish water wetlands had been reported as dying by industrial pollution. Notably, encroachment of Wetlands had proven to be one of the main reasons for the city’s massive flooding in 2015.
The Kalivelli Lake in Villupuram district has also been reported as facing serious threats from unabated land encroachments and increasing shrimp farms. Spread over 670 sq km of catchment area, the Kalivelli Lake is second largest brackish water lake in South India after Pulicat Lake. A haven for hundreds of species of biota, the wetland is found to be nurturing a diverse eco system comprising of birds, fish, reptiles and mammals.
Compiled by Bhim Singh Rawat (firstname.lastname@example.org) SANDRP
To read second part of the report, kindly visit: Wetlands Review 2016: Government Actions
To read third part of the report, kindly visit: Wetlands Review 2016:Legal Interventions