Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017

 10/22/2017  311

The union environment ministry has notified the new Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules 2017 which prohibit a range of activities in wetlands like setting up and expansion of industries, waste dumping and discharge of effluents. The new rules will replace the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010.

Definition of Wetlands: Wetlands can be defined as lands transitional between terrestrial and aquatic eco-systems where the water table is usually at or near the surface or the land is covered by shallow water. They support rich biodiversity and provide wide range of ecosystem services such as water storage, water purification, flood mitigation, erosion control, aquifer recharge and others.

Threats faced: Wetlands are threatened by reclamation and degradation due to activities like drainage and landfill, pollution, hydrological alteration (water withdrawal and changes in inflow and outflow), over-exploitation resulting in loss of biodiversity and disruption in ecosystem services provided by them.

Highlights of new rules:

1. National Wetlands Committee, which will monitor the implementation of the guidelines & State/Union Territory Wetland Authorities have been created
2. Decentralize wetlands management by giving states powers to not only identify and notify wetlands within their jurisdictions but also keep a watch on prohibited activities.
3. The Centre's role will be restricted to monitoring its implementation by states/UTs, recommending trans-boundary wetlands for notification and reviewing integrated management of selected wetlands under the Ramsar Convention.
4. 'Wise use' principle inserted, giving powers to state-level wetland authorities to decide what can be allowed in larger interest.
5. States are now required to identify and notify all the wetlands within a period of one year.

Comparison:

2010 rules had a provision for a super body - Central Wetlands Authority - to decide on all activities relating to wetlands. The new rules, on the other hand, make the provision of respective state-level wetland authorities with the Centre having a limited role through a national wetlands committee, headed by the Union environment secretary as its chairperson.

Criticism:

1.The 'wise use' principle has been criticized by environmentalists who had pointed out that it would lead to arbitrary decisions on the basis of selective understanding of critical issues around the ecologically fragile areas.
2.As per the 2010 version of the rules, there was a Central Wetlands Regulatory Authority (CWRA) which will now be replaced by a national committee.
3.Another major objection is about the process of appeal against the decisions of wetland authorities. According to the 2010 rules, anyone aggrieved with the CWRA’s decisions could have filed an appeal with the National Green Tribunal, but the new 2017 rules are silent on the appeal process.

Prohibited activities under new rules:

Any kind of encroachment, setting up of any industry, expansion of existing industries, solid waste dumping, discharge of untreated wastes and effluents from industries, cities, towns, villages and other human settlements, poaching and any construction of a permanent nature except for boat jetties within 50 metres from the mean high flood level observed in the past 10 years.

Practice Ques: “The new Wetland Rules have laudable objectives. However, it falls short in details”. Critically comment in light of new Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017 notified by Environment ministry.

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