The Centre has awoken to the issue of preservation of wetlands in the country belatedly. What should have been done more than a decade ago was left to benign negligence for reasons of lack of interest at the level of concerned authorities. In these columns we have more than once touched upon the urgency of saving the wetlands from encroachment and in doing so the ultimate purpose is to save the environment and protect ecology from depletion. Democracy is an elephant that takes long time to move and turn and by the time it moves or turns much damage is done to the interests of the people who themselves elect the Government.
The Ramsar Convention, which dates back to 1971, is an intergovernmental treaty aimed at the “conservation and wise use of wetlands”. India became one of its signatories in 1982.
Wetlands are vital parts of the hydrological cycle. The phenomenon world over is that with rapid urbanization and fast expansion of industrial enterprise ecology and environment health is coming under great stress. The worst and the biggest damage done to ecology is by the land sharks who are encroaching upon the wetlands thinking that these can be easily grabbed and then drying up the water that leads to depletion of subsoil water beds and water level. The Ramsar Convention precisely resolved that encroachments should stop and further depletion of water level should be arrested.
In this background the Centre 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. It is to be mentioned that even under the 2010 rules not a single wetland in the State was registered with the Wetlands Conservation and Management mechanism. Under the revised order states or Union Territories 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.
We in the State of Jammu and Kashmir welcome the revised policy of the Union Government on wetland preservation. The State should put aside all inhibitions and redundant practices of protecting the wetland which it has not been able to do nor has it been able to stop encroachment. The Gharana wetland in RS Pura and the Hokarsar wetland a few miles north of Srinagar are the worst affected wetlands. State Government should take immediate initiatives to get the wetlands registered and fall in line with the rest of the country in this national mission of saving wetlands.