Days after the central government issued a government resolution (GR), laying down a number of rules for conservation of wetlands, experts said the damage done to the water bodies in Pune and suburbs was beyond repair.
The GR, issued on September 26, had put restrictions on various activities on wetlands — conversion for non-wetland uses, setting up an industry and expanding existing industries; manufacturing, handling, storing or disposing construction and demolition waste as covered under the Construction and Demolition Waste Management Rules, 2016; disposal of hazardous substance; dumping electronic waste as covered under the E-Waste (Management) Rules, 2016; solid waste dumping; discharging untreated waste material and effluents from industries, cities, towns, villages and other human settlements, construction of any permanent nature and poaching.
Sanjay Kharat, ichthyologist and zoologist, said, “The general outlook in our society is such that a wetland is considered a wasteland. In the last 70 years, almost 50 per cent wetlands across the country have been destroyed due to encroachment and development. In Pune and suburbs, too, wetlands have been taken over either by some housing schemes or industrial projects.”
Wetlands have an ecosystem with specific flora and fauna, which also gets destroyed with them, he added.
In 1840, a British scientist had conducted a study on the fishes of Mula-Mutha and found that the water body had 120 species.
Kharat, who is also the principal of Modern College, Ganeshkhind Road, had conducted a survey of the same water body between 1997 and 2002 to understand changing pattern of fish species diversity, and found that the number of species had come down to 62, which included 18 exotic species.
“Looking at the current status of the river, I feel, maybe, 10-odd exotic species must have been left. Unless wetlands are conserved, the central government’s plan of a Blue Revolution, which aims at focused development and management of the fish species, is also not possible. Though the government has laid down new rules for wetland conservation, it should not have the same fate as the Biodiversity Bill, which was passed more than a decade ago, but didn’t yield much,” said Kharat.
As per the GR, wetlands are vital parts of the hydrological cycle and highly productive ecosystems, which support rich biodiversity and provide a wide range of ecosystem services, such as water storage, purification, flood mitigation, erosion control, aquifer recharge, microclimate regulation, among others.
“Each state will have its Wetlands Authority, which will have members from various departments — Department of Environment, Department of Forests, Department of Urban Development, Rural Development, Department of Water Resources, Department of Irrigation and Flood Control, Department of Tourism and so on. The State Wetlands Authority, or the Union Territory Wetlands Authority, will be required to prepare a list of all wetlands of the state or the Union Territory within three months from the date of the issue of the GR,” it added.
Besides, it stated, the authority will also have to prepare a list of wetlands to be notified, within six months from the date of publication of the rules. It will also have to prepare a comprehensive digital inventory of all wetlands within a period of one year from the date of the GR.
Sachin Anil Punekar, ecologist and founder-president of biospheres, said, “The wetlands should be respected first, then protected and sustainably utilised for its multipurpose values. The State Wetlands Authority should form a Local Wetland Advisory Board, or Committee, for effective management and conservation of individual wetlands, which the state is notifying or going to notify. Wetland mapping and its subsequent notification should be a participatory programme, since the local people are well aware about the multipurpose values of the wetlands in general. So, the State Wetlands Authority should seek public opinion and also consult the researchers in the field of wetland ecology.”
Environmentalist Madhav Gadgil said, “Be it Ramnadi or the Mula-Mutha, substantial damage has been done to the wetlands. In the name of development and beautification, natural vegetation has been removed and concrete walls were built. From untreated sewage to human encroachment and from industrial waste to dumping construction material, the wetlands have been victims of public and civic apathy. All the water bodies are covered with hyacinth, which indicates how badly they have deteriorated. The Biodiversity Act was introduced in early 2000 but wasn’t implemented. Likewise, it’s yet to be seen to what extent wetland conservation rules are implemented.”