The Ramsar Convention, an international intergovernmental treaty for the conservation of wetlands to which India is a signatory, defines wetlands as “areas of marsh, peatland, or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish, or salt, including areas of marine water whose depth does not exceed six metres at low tides.”
There are 49 places in India that have been declared as Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Sites). Wetlands help to stabilise water supplies, clean polluted waters, safeguard shorelines, and recharge groundwater aquifers, among other things. However, a number of things pose a threat to their survival.
India’s Wetlands Are Under Severe Threat
Wetlands surrounding metropolitan centres, such as Udaisagar Lake in Udaipur, are under increasing development pressure for residential, industrial, and commercial facilities. Urban wetlands are critical for the long-term sustainability of public water sources.
Increased air temperature, precipitation shifts, higher storm, drought, and flood frequency, increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, and sea-level rise could all have an impact on wetlands.
Wetlands have become the ultimate waste dumps, with less than one-fifth of the country’s municipal solid waste being processed.
Exotic imported plant species such as water hyacinth and Salvinia pose a threat to Indian wetlands. They block up rivers and crowd out native plants.
Paddy fields have been planted across vast swaths of wetlands. The hydrology of the adjoining wetlands was considerably affected by the construction of a vast number of reservoirs, canals, and dams to supply irrigation.
Wise Use Approach
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has released guidelines to assist state governments in implementing the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017.
According to the recommendations, notified wetlands should be managed “based on a wise-use approach.”
“The maintenance of their ecological character, achieved via the adoption of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development,” according to the Ramsar Convention.
If human “intervention leads to undesirable changes in ecosystem components and processes, such as a reduction in water flowing into the wetlands, in the area under inundation, water holding capacity, and so on,” a wetland usage is “not sensible.”
For example, in an urban lake kind of wetland, interventions such as shoreline concretisation for beauty will improve the aesthetic value and tourism benefits while reducing the “capacity to handle monsoon flows” and hence may not be a “wise-use.”
The conservation and restoration of the natural state of the wetlands are at the heart of the wise use strategy. This entails the involvement of the government, communities, people, and non- governmental organisations (NGOs) in order to mitigate harmful consequences on wetland ecosystems.
Wetland management must be an integrated approach in terms of planning, execution, and monitoring to offset unplanned urbanisation and a growing population.
For the overall management of wetlands, effective collaborations among academicians and professionals, including ecologists, watershed management specialists, planners, and decision- makers.
For efficient management and monitoring, the dynamic character of wetlands needs the broad and regular use of satellite-based remote sensors and low-cost, cheap GIS tools.