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The Times of India, Jun 01 2016
Wetland norms: No clarity on conservation
New wetland rules are a much watered-down version of the 2010 norms, which could make identification and conservation of such ecosystems more difficult, if notified.
Green experts and lawyers have communicated their concerns to the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF). These rules were expected to be more stringent in the aftermath of the Chennai floods in 2015, but they have taken a turn for the worse. To begin with, it's not clear why the new rules have been drafted at all, especially when the 2010 norms haven't been implemented by most states yet. The most ambiguous clause in the new rules is the bit about restrictions of activities.
While the 2010 guidelines clearly categorised what is completely restricted and what is regulated, the new rules use vague terminologies, said experts. They have a “wise use of wetlands“ clause for the maintenance of their ecological character and call for an “ecosystem approach“.
While the new rules prohibit reclamation or conversion of land-use, they don't specify if dumping of waste, dredging, discharge of untreated waste and other activities are prohibited on wetlands. Further, the norms say that in exceptional cases, such prohibitions can be changed with prior approval of the Centre.The revised guidelines have done away with the Central Wetland Regulatory Authority (CWRA) that is responsible for appraising notification on new wetlands. Instead, they suggest setting up of state wetland authorities that will develop an integrated management plan for water bodies and get them notified by the state government.
The rules have no mention of how communities or people can ensure conservation of wetlands. They have no provisions for carrying out environment impact assessment (EIA) for projects on wetlands either. “The new rules draw upon the idea of sustainable development as the basis for which wetlands need to be protected. However, sustainable development is a contentious concept and can mean anything and everything,“ said Kanchi Kohli, legal research director at Namati. “If decisions are based on the `wise use' clause, they can be arbitrary and lead to a selective understanding. In this light, the 2016 draft is far from being an improvement from the 2010 rules.“
Several organisations, in cluding Yamuna Jiye Abhiyan (YJA), EIA Resource and Response Centre, Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE), Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and many birders as well as wildlife enthusiasts have sent their feedback to the ministry .
Interestingly , the National Green Tribunal (NGT) is still hearing two petitions on nonimplementation of Wetland Rules, 2010 filed by Anand Arya and Pushp Jain. In the 12 responses received from various states and UTs, no wetlands have been notified.“NGT had recently ordered states to complete the process of identification of wetlands in five to 10 districts depending on the size of the state by July 22. Why change the rules when the issue is sub-judice? This is really bizarre,“ said Arya, a birder.
2021: 245 wetlands don’t pass water test
Over 245 wetlands in Delhi are not meeting the parameters for dissolved oxygen and ammonia, according to a report by Delhi Pollution Control Committee. The water quality report has been shared with 16 water body agencies, which are preparing an action plan for improving the health of wetlands. The DPCC report is based on the water samples collected from wetlands last year for a baseline survey and a new survey will be done to compare the readings.
According to the report, some prominent wetlands failed to meet the standard parameters. The dissolved oxygen standard for a wetland is 4 mg/l or more, while the level of free ammonia should be 1.2mg/l. The report revealed that Bhalswa lake could not meet the required criteria as the level of dissolved oxygen was found to be at 2.1 mg/l. Similarly, Hauz Khas wetland (district park) met the dissolved oxygen criteria but failed to free ammonia level. It recorded ammonia of 3.8 mg/l. The report stated that there are 13 wetlands named Asola in South district and of these, eight failed to fulfill the required standard of ammonia.
The Wetland Authority of Delhi has listed 1,040 wetlands and has allotted unique identification numbers to them. Of these, action plans for conservation of wetlands have been prepared for around 600 wetlands. “We have shared the water quality report with all agencies that maintain the wetlands. The action plans are being made on how they will improve the water quality. Efforts will be taken to improve the health of wetlands,” said a DPCC official.
The official added, “We are conducting another survey of wetlands to compare it with the findings of the baseline survey to check if there is any improvement in the water quality. On the basis of the report, the wetlands will be prioritised and necessary action taken.”
TOI had earlier reported that Delhi currently does not have a single notified waterbody. An official said the wetland authority would send recommendations to the state government for notification of waterbodies by March 2022 and the final notification process is expected to be completed by June next year.
When a wetland is notified under Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017, it gets legal protection and activities like dumping of waste, discharge of untreated effluents and encroachment will be prohibited in it, said an official.
Four years ago, Ambedkar University Delhi took possession of a barren plot used by people of Gopalpur village in northeast Delhi to learn driving or for religious gatherings. Today, it is a wetland with over 90 species of trees and 108 species of migratory birds, the miracle wrought on the 15 hectares by the students and teachers of AUD’s Centre for Urban Ecology and Sustainability (CUES).
Believing as the CUES vision statement says, that “wetlands are essential for maintaining ecosystem balance and performing various ecosystem functions such as moderating micro-climate, providing habitat for aquatic and avian life, recharging aquifers and groundwater, and maintaining soil moisture” AUD collaborated with Delhi Development Authority to restore the Dheerpur wetland in Gopalpur village.
Suresh Babu, director, CUES, said, “The project envisages ecological restoration of 25.8 hectares earmarked for wetlands over a period of five years. The wetland park will provide hydrological, regulatory, cultural and aesthetic benefits to the local communities of Mukherjee Nagar, Nirankari Colony, Gandhi Vihar and the AUD campus coming up at the site.” At the wetland, Babu recalled how the foundation plaque was put up by AUD in 2015 in an almost barren land. “The place looks absolutely different now, and the whole area is green with vegetation and waterbodies. Even the road has narrowed down with saplings growing well on the sides,” he said. At the CUES field station, university staffers, gardeners, students and researchers are carrying out some work. “We have skeletal staffing and much work is voluntary by students and teachers,” Babu said. “There are over 90 tree species like jamun, bamboo, willow and mulberry. The banyan tree planted by the Dalai Lama in 2017 is also growing well.”
When the project began, the soil had been compacted by cars and religious gathering, squeezing out whatever water there was. “For water storage, we created ponds. Consequently, three big wetland expanses and four smaller ones, all interconnected, form during the rainy season. “These together have a surface storage area of 50,000 cubic litres and aid in groundwater recharge,” said Babu.
The wetland is also home to over 108 bird species, monitored twice a month by AUD researchers. “These are mostly wetland birds like the red naped ibis, the greater coucal and the long-tailed shrike. Dheerpur has become a favourite with birders,” smiled Babu. Joggers and visitors from the nearby villages also gather in the luxuriant wetland. “Villagers have been able to collect over 7,000kg of fodder for their livestock in the past year. This contribution to the community makes the wetland all the more important,” Babu added.
Anu Singh Lather, AUD vice-chancellor, described the wetland restoration project as a “prestigious outreach project of the university”. She was happy that the “dedicated effort of our team of researchers” has yielded excellent results in a short time. She noted, “While the project is still in the development phase and there still is some distance to cover, the wetland already serves as a unique model of participatory urban restoration involving volunteers, students, researchers and local community members.”