A Supreme Court bench, headed by justice Madan B Lokur, has asked the centre to inform it about the status of funds disbursed by them to the states, for preservation of wetlands and also about how these have been spent by the states. “This wetlands issue deserves much serious attention. If there are no wetlands left, it will affect agriculture and several other things. It is a very, very important issue,” the bench, also comprising justices S Abdul Nazeer and Deepak Gupta, told the counsel appearing for the centre.
A wetland is a marshy land area, like swamps or mangroves that has water, either permanently or seasonally and which could also have a distinct ecosystem. The government informed the top court that the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017, have been notified and it would replace the earlier set of guidelines, which came into effect in 2010.
Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, appearing for petitioner MK Balakrishnan, said that several states have not complied with the court’s direction, to inform the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change about the amounts received by them towards wetlands preservation, along with the audit reports and impact of the expenditure incurred by them. “Wetlands are vanishing in our country. This is a matter related to water conservation, which is very necessary,” he said, adding that earlier, there were around 600 lakes in Bengaluru but the number has now come down to around 40. Sankaranarayanan also raised objection to some of the provisions in the 2017 rules, following which the bench asked the petitioner to file an application in this regard.
The bench also referred to its earlier order and said that 2,01,503 wetlands in the country would continue to be protected by the government. It asked the states to comply with its earlier direction within four weeks and warned that non-compliance would invite imposition of cost, as well as summoning of top officials. The court, which listed the matter for hearing after four weeks, also said that a senior official from the environment ministry should be present, on the next date of hearing.
The top court had earlier expressed concern over a huge expenditure of Rs 945.95 crores, on various works related to wetlands and commented that the activities shown were extremely general in nature. It had also directed various high courts to monitor the management of 26 sites, identified in the Ramsar Convention of 1971 on wetlands, till there was some visible improvement, as these were international heritage. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, is an international treaty for conservation and sustainable use of wetlands. It is named after the city of Ramsar in Iran, where the convention was signed in 1971. A Ramsar site is a wetland of international importance, under the convention.
Central agencies have identified over two lakh wetlands in the country through satellite imagery made by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), which had, in 2011, prepared a national wetlands atlas and 2,01,503 wetlands were mapped. The apex court had asked the centre to inventorise all 2,01,503 wetlands, to protect them and notify them in consultation with the state governments. It had emphasised the importance of conservation of wetlands, saying these were of ‘immense ecological importance’ and there was no justification, for the centre not taking prompt action.