Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has notified new Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules 2017 to prohibit range of activities in wetlands. The new rules will replace earlier rules notified in 2010.
Wetland is transitional land between terrestrial and aquatic eco-systems where water table is usually at or near surface or it may be land covered by shallow water. It supports rich biodiversity and provides wide range of ecosystem services such as water storage, water purification, flood mitigation, erosion control, aquifer recharge etc.
There are 115 wetlands officially identified by Central Government and of those 26 are identified as wetlands of international importance under Ramsar Convention (an international intergovernmental treaty for conservation of wetlands to which India is party).
Wetlands are threatened by reclamation and degradation due to activities like drainage and landfill, pollution, hydrological alteration, over-exploitation resulting in loss of biodiversity and disruption in ecosystem services provided by them.
Highlights of new rules
State Wetlands Authority (SWA): It stipulates setting up of SWA in each State/UTs headed by State’s environment minister and include range of government officials. State government will also nominate one expert each in fields of wetland ecology, hydrology, fisheries, landscape planning and socioeconomics.
Functions of SWA: It will develop comprehensive list of activities to be regulated and permitted within notified wetlands and their zone of influence. It will also recommend additional prohibited activities for specific wetlands, define strategies wise use of wetlands and its conservation and undertake measures to enhance awareness within stakeholders and local communities on values and functions of wetlands. In this case, wise use has been defined as principle of sustainable uses that is compatible with conservation.
Prohibited Activities: The rules prohibit activities like conversion of wetland for non-wetland uses including encroachment of any kind, setting up and expansion of industries, waste dumping and discharge of untreated wastes and effluents from industries, cities, towns, villages and other human settlements.
Digital inventory of all wetlands: Mandatory for state authorities to prepare list of all wetlands and list of wetlands to be notified within six months. Based on it, a comprehensive digital inventory of all wetlands will be created and will be updated every ten years.
National Wetlands Committee (NWC): The rules stipulates for setting up of NWC, headed by MoEFCC Secretary, to monitor implementation of these rules and oversee work carried out by States. NCW will also advise Central Government on appropriate policies and action programmes for conservation and wise use of wetlands, recommend designation of wetlands of international importance under Ramsar Convention, advise on collaboration with international agencies on issues related to wetlands etc.