Sunday, February 2, was World Wetlands Day. It was on this date in 1971 that the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands was adopted in Ramsar, Iran. Only last week, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change had announced that the Ramsar Convention had declared 10 wetlands from India as sites of “international importance”, taking the total number of Ramsar Sites in the country to 37.
Why the focus on wetlands?
The Ramsar Convention definition for wetlands includes marshes, floodplains, rivers and lakes, mangroves, coral reefs and other marine areas no deeper than 6 metres at low tide, as well as human-made wetlands such as waste-water treatment ponds and reservoirs.
The IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) the global assessment identified wetlands as the most threatened ecosystem. This impacts 40% of the world’s plant and animal species that live or breed in wetlands, according to UNESCO. Thirty per cent of land-based carbon is stored in peatland; one billion people depend on wetlands for their livelihoods; and wetlands provide $47 trillion in essential services annually, according to the Wetlands Day official website.
This year’s Wetlands Day theme is Wetlands and Biodiversity.
What is the status of wetlands in India?
India has over 7 lakh wetlands and rules for their protection; yet not one of the wetlands has been notified under domestic laws, according to environmentalist Anand Arya, a petitioner in a Supreme Court case on wetlands.
Wetlands are regulated under the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017. The 2010 version of the Rules provided for a Central Wetland Regulatory Authority; the 2017 Rules replace it with state-level bodies and created a National Wetland Committee, which functions in an advisory role. The newer regulations removed some items from the definition of “wetlands” including backwaters, lagoon, creeks, and estuaries.
“The 2010 Rules required States to identify and prepare Brief Documents, submit them to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, which was to notify them. Under the 2017 regulations, the whole process has been delegated to States,” Arya told The Indian Express.
“We have a total of 7,57,060 wetlands, covering 1.6 crore hectares or 4.5% of India’s area. In February 2017, the Court extended protection to 2,01,503 of these under Rule 4 of the 2010 Rules, and ordered authorities to notify sites. The wetlands were supposed to have been notified by March 25, 2019, 180 days after the 2017 Rules went into force (September 26, 2017). Yet so far, not a single wetland has been notified,” Arya said. The 2,01,503 wetlands, measuring over 2.25 hectares, were identified using ISRO’s satellite imagery.
In October 2017, the Supreme Court expressed concern over the disappearance of wetlands, and observed, “If there are no wetlands left, it will affect agriculture and several other things. It is a very, very important issue.”
What does being a Ramsar Site mean?
The designation is for “Wetlands of International Importance”. “They are recognised as being of significant value not only for the country or the countries in which they are located, but for humanity as a whole… The inclusion of a wetland in the list embodies the government’s commitment to take the steps necessary to ensure that its ecological character is maintained. The Convention includes various measures to respond to threats to the ecological character of Sites,” the Ramsar Convention website said.
The selection is made on the basis of various criteria defined under the convention. Article 2.2 says: “Wetlands should be selected for the List on account of their international significance in terms of ecology, botany, zoology, limnology or hydrology.”
There are currently over 2,300 Ramsar Sites around the world, covering over 2.1 million square km.
In India, the 10 new wetlands declared Ramsar Sites are Nandur Madhameshwar in Maharashtra; Keshopur-Miani, Beas Conservation Reserve and Nangal in Punjab; and Nawabganj, Parvati Agra, Saman, Samaspur, Sandi and Sarsai Nawar in UP.
On the newly identified Ramsar Sites, Arya said, “Until days ago, out of the 7,57,060 wetlands in the country, only 27 sites were protected. Now there are 10 more. Where are we as far as protection efforts are concerned?”
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