In a move set to increase protection of wetlands in Maharashtra, the state wetland committee in its first meeting has decided to speed up proposals on converting at least nine important wetlands in the state into Ramsar sites. Wetlands of international importance that are recognised globally due to the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty for the conservation and wise use of wetlands, are termed Ramsar sites. A Ramsar site is an internationally recognised wetland for its significance on conservation and wise use of its resources.
Although, India has 26 Ramsar sites, the state is yet to get one.
“Proposals for at least three sites such as Lonar lake in Buldhana district, Nandur Madhmeshwar Bird Sanctuary in Nashik district, Jaikwadi Bird Sanctuary in Aurangabad district are in the advanced stage of drafting. Within three months, we should be able to send the proposal to Ministry of Environment and Forests and if approved, these proposals will be sent to the Ramsar convention to be declared as Ramsar sites,” said an official, present at the meeting.
Any land adjoining a water body, which gives a distinct ecosystem, is a wetland. These ecosystems could be coastal or inland and include mangroves, marshes and swamps. Other large wetlands such as Ujini wetland in Pune district, Navegaon National Park and bird sanctuary in Gondia district are also part of the shortlisted nine sites.
The committee also decided to prepare a brief document on wetlands in the state within six months. Wetlands on government land and national parks will be documented by the forest department and those on private land that are more than 500 hectares in size will be documented by the state environment department, said sources.
The committee chaired by the chief secretary has officials from the forest, environment, irrigation departments as well as experts such as Asad Rahmani, director of Bombay Natural History Society India, and environmental expert Dr Erach Bharucha on its board.
The state was forced into action after the Bombay High Court in March asked it to constitute a permanent mechanism to monitor wetlands in the state. The suggestion was made by a bench headed by Justice V M Kanade while hearing a PIL filed by a group of NGOs that alleged destruction of wetlands in Malwani, Dahisar, Vasai, Gorai, Oshiwara, Kanakia Nagar in Mira Road, Kasheli in Thane and Palm Beach Road area in Navi Mumbai.
According to the 2011 national wetland atlas, around 23,046 wetlands have been mapped in Maharashtra covering 10,14,522 hectares, which is around 3.3 per cent of the geographic area. Of this, Mumbai suburban district has 13282 hectares, while Mumbai urban district has 763 hectares and Thane district has 59936 hectares of wetlands.