With over 80% of India’s wetlands lost, the Environment Ministry has now released a fresh set of guidelines to support its previous initiative of Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules which were released two years ago in 2017.
The new guidelines advocate for the wise use of wetlands, but recommended that state governments can expand the list of activities that are prohibited in those areas leaving a lot of onus on them. The guidelines come just ahead of February 2, celebrated as World Wetlands Day.
All wetland biodiversity, or ecosystem services values, can be notified under the Wetlands Rules 2017, except river channels, paddy fields, man-made water bodies specifically constructed for drinking water, aquaculture, salt production, recreation, irrigation purposes, wetlands falling within areas covered under the Indian Forest Act, 1927, Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 2011.
The document aims to guide states in preparing a list of wetlands; identifying wetlands for notification under the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017; delineating wetlands, wetlands complexes and zone of influence; developing a list of activities to be regulated and permitted; and developing an integrated management plan for wetlands. Speaking to NewsClick, environmental expert Kanchi Kohli said, “The power (given to the state governments) to add to the list of prohibited activities is good. The guidelines don’t bring any major change to this power.”
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The 2017 rules had listed out activities prohibited within notified wetlands, such as the setting up of any industry and expansion of existing industries, manufacture or handling or storage or disposal of construction and demolition waste, solid waste dumping, discharge of untreated wastes and effluents from industries, cities, towns, villages and other human settlements. The guidelines now recommend that “state/union territory wetlands authority, based on consideration of site-specific conditions, may consider expanding the list of prohibited activities for a notified wetland [or wetlands complex].”
But, many feel that this is not enough. Environmental lawyer Rahul Choudhary told NewsClick, “With the 2017 rules the government had significantly diluted the guidelines. This policy also appears to be contradictory when one looks at the conservation of water policy and the conservation of ponds. This looks like an attempt to dilute the conservation process, which is a major concern.”
The 2017 rules called for setting up a wetlands authority comprising ministers, officials and experts, in all states. The authority would formulate a list of activities to be allowed, regulated or prohibited within wetlands and their zone of influence, define conservation strategies and wise use of wetlands. As per the 2017 rules, these authorities were required to designate an expert each for wetlands ecology, hydrology, fisheries, landscape planning and socio-economics.
The latest guidelines recommend that “at least one member may be drawn from civil society to enable stakeholder representation”. The 2017 rules had also stressed that the state governments shall designate a “department as nodal department for wetlands”, which “shall provide all necessary support and act as secretariat to the authority,” which is yet to take place.