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INCLUSIVE APPROACH TO WETLAND CONSERVATION IN INDIA – IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

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INCLUSIVE APPROACH TO WETLAND CONSERVATION IN INDIA - IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

Vaishali Singh

In Mann ki Batt, the hon’ble Prime Minister highlighted the importance of wetlands in our ecosystem:
“Home to 75 Ramsar sites, India’s wetlands are testimony to our ethos of living in
harmony with nature and also give an important message of sustainable
development”.

INTRODUCTION

Wetlands are areas where the land is covered in water or there is water accumulation. They are considered the most productive environment as it caters to various species of plants, animals, and aquatic species. They have economic benefits such as water supply, agriculture , and fisheries. Wetlands play a significant role in maintaining biodiversity, many birds and animals depend upon them. They play an important role in flood control and groundwater recharge and have benefits such as:

  1. Wetlands as a source of water- freshwater mainly comes from wetlands. They help absorb rainfall and replenish groundwater, providing water for agriculture and drinking.
  2. Wetlands as flood and storm buffers- they absorb water quickly by slowly seeping the water into the soil.
  3. Wetland products- wetlands that are managed sustainably offer various plants, animals, and minerals. Coastal wetlands provide fish, rice, and honey.
  4. Wetlands for recreational and tourism- wetlands are attractive places for tourism due to their natural beauty and diverse plants and animal life. But irresponsible tourism can harm wetlands by putting too much pressure on them.
  5. Wetlands and climate change- wetlands are at risk from climate change, but some wetlands can store carbon reducing harmful greenhouse gases. They absorb and hold water, that helps control floods and storms, making them valuable in combating climate change.
  6. Wetlands as a habitat of migratory birds- around 2000 bird species migrate thousands of miles each year to avoid harsh winters in polar and temperate regions. Wetlands are important stopover sites for these birds to rest, feed and breed during migration. Indian wetlands connect the Central Asian and East Australasian flyways.

However, over the years, anthropological activities have caused threats to these wetlands existence. Various reasons causing threat to the wetlands are:

  1. Increased pollution levels due to urbanization,
  2. Climate change,
  3. Catchment degradation due to intensive aquaculture and agriculture activities,
  4. Unregulated tourism,
  5. Change in the hydrological regimes due to construction activities such as the construction of dams,
  6. Improper discharge of waste.

Due to this increased threat towards wetlands, they have degraded over time and are affecting the ecosystem that relies on their existence. India has lost nearly 30 percent of its natural wetlands in the last three decades. India has been home to many species of migratory birds, millions of migratory birds flock to India, and wetlands are critical to this annual phenomenon. Indian wetlands provide stopover sites for these migratory birds, hence, it makes important to preserve these wetlands and ensure there is no disruption in the way of these migratory birds.

WETLAND CONSERVATION SCHEMES

To preserve the wetlands in India, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has passed the Wetland Conservation and Management Rules, 2017 which help to conserve, manage and maintain the ecological characteristics of wetlands. The rules prohibit the unsustainable use of wetlands such as the discharge of waste, and dumping of solid waste. The rules promote the wise use principle which means sustainable use while protecting them.

The Ministry has passed and is implementing its National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Ecosystems (NPCA) which is a centrally sponsored scheme for the conservation of the management of wetlands in India that is implemented on a cost-sharing basis between the central and State/UT Governments. The scheme aims to restore the wetlands so that the water quality is enhanced and there is improvement in biodiversity. To achieve its aim, it introduced a wetlands rejuvenation programme. The programme approach is:

  1. Developing a wetland brief document
  2. Wetland Mitras to enhance citizen participation that includes local stakeholders
  3. Wetland healthcard that will help to monitor and track the wetland conditions
  4. Developing an integrated management plan that involves addressing biodiversity, ecosystem services, values, and threats.

The programme plans to rejuvenate 1000 wetlands across the country. India has taken effective legislative and policy steps to ensure wetland conservation for biodiversity and the ecosystem. Due to the persistent threat to the wetlands, it has become significant to preserve these wetlands.

2nd February is celebrated as world wetlands day every year as an intergovernmental treaty was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 called the Convention on Wetlands. The Convention enables countries to take measures to protect their wetlands and to use them wisely. Ramsar sites are of international importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International importance. India became a party to the convention on 1st Feb 1982. India has an abundance of wetlands and at present has 75 Ramsar sites making it the largest network of wetlands in South Asia.

India’s share of Ramsar wetlands has increased over the years. Year-wise designation of 75 Ramsar site is provided in the table.

Source: PIB, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (2022)

On World Wetlands Day 2023, the theme is “It’s time for wetlands restoration” which aims to raise awareness about wetlands to reverse their rapid loss and encourage actions to conserve and restore them hence the emphasis is on wetland restoration. To create more awareness and enable positive steps towards wetlands conservation, The Union Ministry for the Environment, Forest and Climate Change launched ‘save wetlands campaign’.

The campaign is an effort to include the whole society by sensitizing people about the importance and value of wetlands in our ecosystem. Overall, the campaign is a step towards increased citizens participation and their involvement in wise use of wetland. The ministry has launched a separate website for wetlands information i.e., Wetlands of India Portal. It is a one stop portal that disseminate information related to wetland sites in India, various initiatives taken to conserve wetlands, resources and e-learning that helps provide information to people about wetlandsand take steps in getting involved in the conservation initiates.

In its effort to restore the wetlands and looking at the dire need to protect these wetlands, the Union Government in its budget 2023-2024 introduced the Amrit Dharohar Scheme for 3 years. The scheme falls under the budget’s “Green Growth” one of the seven priorities of the budget towards achieving climate goals that is aligned to mission LiFE.

The focus of the scheme aims to promote the optimal use of the wetlands. The objective of the scheme is on:

  1. enhancing the biodiversity in the wetlands,
  2. preserving and increasing their carbon stock,
  3. building upon their eco-tourism, enabling the local communities to optimally use the wetlands for employment generation.

It aims to achieve sustainable ecosystem development with the help of the local communities. The scheme is a step towards improving and strengthening biodiversity by conserving the wetlands.

WAY FORWARD

The government aims to conserve wetlands to avoid the impact of natural disasters, it emphasizes its preservation due to the role wetlands play in reducing the impact of floods and storms. It stresses the need to integrate state participation in policy, planning, and regulation of wetlands and highlights the importance of including the local communities in the effort to preserve the wetlands which includes undertaking awareness.

For the government to successfully implement its wetland conservation initiatives requires extensive political will and appropriate funding. State authorities require to take steps towards garbage dumping or overfishing should be taken into account to avoid polluting the wetlands and degrading their health.

References:

What are wetlands, Ramsar Information Paper No. 1 (2007). https://www.ramsar.org/sites/default/files/documents/library/info2007-01-e.pdf.

Ramsar. https://ramsar.org/wetland/india.

Animesh Jain, The state of India’s urban wetlands and why they need to be protected urgently, Down to Earth. (2021, August 13). https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/environment/the-state-of-india-s-urban-wetlands-and- why-they-need-to-be-protected-urgently-78456.

Press Information Bureau, World Wetlands Day- 02 February (Feb 01, 2023). https://static.pib.gov.in/WriteReadData/specificdocs/documents/2023/feb/doc202321156601. pdf .

Press Information Bureau, 75 Ramsar Sites in 75th Independence. (August 13, 2022). https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1851484 .

Wetlands of India Portal. Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. https://indianwetlands.in/about-us/about-the-division/ .

Press Information Bureau. (Feb 04, 2023). https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1896301

Press Information Bureau, Amrit Dharohar Scheme to Promote Values of Local Communities in Conserving Wetland Ecosystem. (01 February, 2023). https://pib.gov.in/PressReleaseIframePage.aspx?PRID=1895291

Vaishali is a Research Intern at IMPRI.

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