Context: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) criticized the Madhya Pradesh government for the significant damage to water bodies and issued an order to cease the operation of cruise vessels and other motor-powered boats in the Bhoj wetland. This directive was issued by the Central Zone Bench of the environmental court in response to an application filed last year expressing concern about the deterioration of the wetland, encompassing the Upper Lake and Lower Lake.
About Bhoj wetland:
- Location in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh: The Bhoj wetland is a vital ecological site nestled in the heart of Bhopal district in Madhya Pradesh, India.
- Historical Origins of the Lakes: This remarkable wetland comprises two interconnected man-made lakes: the Upper Lake and the Lower Lake. The Upper Lake, one of the oldest and most expansive man-made lakes in central India, was ingeniously crafted by King Bhoj during the 11th century. The king achieved this feat by constructing an earthen dam across the Kolans River.
- International Recognition under the Ramsar Convention: In 2002, the Bhoj wetland garnered international recognition when it was designated a wetland of global importance under the Ramsar Convention of 1971.
- Conservation Efforts and Financing: In 1995, the Madhya Pradesh government undertook a significant conservation project for the wetland, securing funding of Rs 2.5 billion from the Japanese Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC).
Critical Significance of Bhoj Wetland:
- Water Supply: The Bhoj wetland plays a pivotal role in supplying drinking water to approximately 1.2 million people in the region, underscoring its immense significance for the local populace.
- Biodiversity Haven: The Upper Lake, also known as Bhojtal, is home to a diverse ecosystem, hosting 15 different fish species and various turtle species. Furthermore, it serves as a vital habitat for approximately 2,500 migratory bird species, making it a crucial breeding and nesting ground for these international avian visitors.
- Accessibility: The Bhoj wetland stands out as one of the most accessible Ramsar sites, boasting a road encircling the twin lakes for ease of exploration.
Current Challenges facing Bhoj Wetland:
- According to a study conducted by the Environmental Planning and Coordination organization, the Bhoj wetland confronts a dual challenge of deteriorating water quality and reduced storage capacity.
- On the urban front, water quality degradation results from the inflow of sewage, nutrients, and toxins originating from the catchment areas. The Upper Lake, in particular, contends with a daily influx of approximately 9.82 million gallons (44 MLD) of sewage.
- The majority of the catchment area is rural, primarily devoted to agriculture, where intensive chemical farming practices are commonplace. This leads to the utilization of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which subsequently seep into the lake via streams.
- The southwest region bears the brunt of this agricultural runoff, adversely affecting water quality and posing a long-term threat to the wetland’s health.
- Furthermore, a significant volume of silt flows into the lake from the rural catchment area, exacerbating the conservation challenges faced by the Bhoj wetland.
WWF-India reports that among all ecosystems in India, wetlands face some of the most severe threats. These critical habitats are grappling with a range of challenges, including the loss of vegetation, salinization, excessive inundation, water pollution, invasive species, and unchecked development and road construction.
Wetland ecosystems hold a unique position as transitional zones, bridging the divide between terrestrial and aquatic environments. They are often referred to as “ecotones,” highlighting their role in connecting these two distinct ecological realms.
Understanding Wetlands through Ramsar Convention Definitions:
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands offers a comprehensive definition of wetlands, encompassing various key characteristics:
- Marshes, Fens, and Peatlands: Wetlands encompass a diverse range of landscapes, including marshes, fens, and peatlands. These areas may occur naturally or result from artificial interventions.
- Temporary or Permanent Nature: Wetlands can exhibit either temporary or permanent characteristics, further illustrating their ecological diversity.
- Natural or Artificial Formation: They can arise through natural processes or as a result of human-made alterations to the landscape.
- Inclusive of Water Types: Wetlands span a spectrum of water types, embracing freshwater, brackish water, and saltwater environments.
- Depth Limits: The depth of marine water within wetlands, at low tide, does not surpass a height of six meters, distinguishing them from deeper aquatic ecosystems.
About Ramsar Convention
‘Promoting the Conservation and Wise Use of Wetlands’:
- The Ramsar Convention, a notable international agreement, stands as a staunch advocate for the conservation and prudent utilization of wetlands worldwide. Remarkably, it is the sole global treaty exclusively dedicated to the preservation of a single ecosystem – wetlands.
- Inception: This pivotal convention was established on February 2nd, 1971, initiated by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).
- Enactment: It officially came into effect in 1975, with countries around the world recognizing the significance of safeguarding their wetland ecosystems.
- India’s Commitment: India signed the Ramsar Convention on February 1, 1982, solidifying its dedication to this global cause. There are 75 Ramsar sites in India
- World Wetlands Day: An important date in the calendar is February 2nd, celebrated annually as World Wetlands Day to raise awareness about the importance of wetlands.
Three Pillars of Ramsar Convention:
- Wise Use: Central to the Ramsar Convention is the concept of “wise use.” It advocates for the sustainable utilization of wetlands, balancing human needs with the preservation of ecological integrity.
- List of Wetlands of International Importance: Governments commit to this list, designating specific wetlands for international recognition and protection. Inclusion signifies a government’s pledge to take measures to uphold the ecological character of these sites.
- International Cooperation: Collaboration between nations is a fundamental aspect, emphasizing the importance of working together to conserve wetlands on a global scale.
The Montreux Record
Monitoring Change in Wetlands:
- The Montreux Record serves as a register of wetland sites within the List of Wetlands of International Importance.
- These sites have either undergone, are undergoing, or are anticipated to experience changes in their ecological character due to factors like technological advancements, pollution, or human interference.
- Adopted in Brisbane during the Conference of the Contracting Parties in 1996, the Montreux Record operates as an adjunct to the Montreux Record Operating Guidelines.
- This database plays a pivotal role within the Ramsar Convention by continuously monitoring and documenting changes in designated wetland sites, ensuring their protection.
- Two prominent Montreux Record sites in India include Loktak Lake in Manipur and Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan.
- Chilika Lake, another significant Indian wetland, was added to the Montreux Record in 1993 but later removed from the list in 2002, showcasing the dynamic nature of these designations.
Partners in Conservation
- The Ramsar Convention collaborates closely with six distinguished organizations known as International Organization Partners (IOPs), which are:
- Birdlife International
- IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature)
- International Water Management Institute (IWMI)
- Wetlands International
- WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature)
- International Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT)
Criteria for Identifying Wetlands of International Importance:
One of the nine criteria must be fulfilled to be the Ramsar Site.
Introduction to the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017:
The Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017, have been officially promulgated by the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), in accordance with the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
Defining the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017:
- Effective Conservation and Management: These rules are designed to ensure the effective conservation and management of wetlands within India. They represent a substantial update, supplanting the earlier Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules from 2010.
- Regulatory Framework: The Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017, serve as the principal regulatory framework governing the conservation and management of wetlands within the country. Notably, they usher in a shift in wetland management, deviating from a centralized approach towards increased involvement of state-level organizations.
- Key Responsibilities: The rules stipulate the advisory role of the National Wetland Committee in overseeing the integrated management of Ramsar Convention areas and providing guidance to state agencies on the concept of “wise use” concerning wetlands.
- Guidelines Development: To aid State Governments and Union Territory (UT) Administrations in implementing these rules, comprehensive guidelines have been developed. These guidelines encompass various aspects, including the identification and delineation of wetlands, the creation of lists of regulated and permitted activities, and the structure and operational matters concerning the Wetlands Authority.
Salient Features of the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017:
- State Wetland Authority (SWA): These rules mandate the establishment of a State Wetland Authority in each state and union territory, presided over by the state’s environment minister. The authority comprises diverse government representatives with expertise in fields such as hydrology, socioeconomics, landscape design, fisheries, and wetland ecology.
- Principles of Sustainable Use: The rules introduce the concept of “smart use” as the guiding principle for wetland management. This shift towards sustainable use, acceptable to conservation objectives, is termed “wise use,” marking a decentralization of powers.
- Comprehensive List of Activities: SWAs are tasked with creating exhaustive lists of activities to be regulated and permitted within notified wetlands and their zones of influence. They are also authorized to add activities that should be prohibited in specific wetlands and develop plans for more efficient wetland utilization.
- National Wetland Committee (NWC): Replacing the Central Wetlands Regulatory Authority, the NWC is established, with the MoEFCC secretary leading it.
- Prohibited Activities: The rules categorically forbid activities such as encroachment, industrial establishment, waste disposal, and untreated effluent discharge in wetlands.
- Inventory Creation: State authorities are required to compile lists of all wetlands and those that need notification within a stipulated timeframe. These lists serve as the basis for the creation of a comprehensive digital inventory of all wetlands, updated every decade.
Centre for Wetland Conservation and Management (CWCM):
- Establishment: The CWCM, inaugurated on World Wetland Day in 2021 (February 2, 2021), is an integral component of the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM), based in Chennai, under the purview of the Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Climate Change.
- Primary Objective: The centre is dedicated to the management, restoration, and conservation of India’s wetlands. It aims to address knowledge gaps and specific research needs in this field.
- Knowledge Sharing: The CWCM facilitates knowledge exchange among State/UT Wetland Authorities, wetland users, managers, academics, policymakers, and practitioners through its knowledge portal.
- Networking: It fosters alliances and networks with relevant regional, national, and international organizations and promotes integrated approaches for wetland protection, management, and sustainable utilization.
- Support for Government: The CWCM assists governments at various levels in the development and implementation of legislative and policy frameworks, management planning, monitoring, and focused wetlands conservation research.