GUWAHATI, June 4 - Decrying the Centre�s new Draft Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules-2016 as damaging to Assam�s rivers and wetlands, environmentalists have warned that the abundant and life-giving water-bodies would lose their much-needed protection under the new Draft Wetland Rules.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India recently released the Draft Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules-2016.
Among other things � and which conservationists believe will pave the way for ruthless exploitation of water-bodies � the new rules have effected a change in the very definition of �river� by excluding rivers from the definition of �wetland�.
Experts who deliberated on the issue at a joint consultation organized by Aaranyak and ActionAid in the city on Friday were unanimous on the adverse impacts on water-bodies stemming from the new Rules.
The experts were quick to point out that compared with the Wetland Rules-2010, the Draft Wetland Rules-2016 offered �very few protective measures� to Assam�s wetlands.
The consultation suggested a complete revision of the Draft Wetland Rules-2016 to ensure better wetland management and conservation in the State.
According to Dr Partha J Das of Aaranyak, many important provisions which were included in 2010 had been removed from the new draft Rules which was alarming from an environmental perspective.
�For instance, rivers have now been completely excluded from the definition of �wetlands�,� he said.
The consultation recommended that �at least those parts of a river or rivers directly connected to wetlands should also be recognized as part of wetland ecosystem and provided protection.� This apart, it was also recommended that in the context of Assam�s wetlands, the connecting channels must be accorded similar protection, maintenance and restoration.
It was further pointed out that �the new draft Rules fail to mention the list of prohibited activities which were part of Wetland Rules-2010, which must be rectified immediately with the re-inclusion of the list to protect Assam�s wetlands.�
Several categories of wetlands were provided automatic protection under a previous clause but these have now been removed from the new Rules, which also is objectionable, and the consultation recommended re-inclusion of the clause.
Under the Draft Wetland Rules-2016, only selective wetlands would be accorded protection. The new Rules are therefore considerably weaker when compared to the 2010 version with an added clause which states that �under special circumstances� even these protection may be nullified.
�Such a clause can easily open a portal of exploitation of wetlands in Assam, and it is of utmost importance that under no circumstance is the protection diluted,� Dr Das said.
The keynote presentation was delivered by Prasanna Barua of Assam Remote Sensing Application Centre, Department of Science & Technology, Government of Assam. He provided an overview of the current status of wetlands in Assam and highlighted the challenges in wetland conservation.
�Assam has over 3,000 wetlands under different categories and these wetlands are part and parcel of the larger ecosystem. Gradual and changing �development� work has led to degradation of important wetlands which also negatively affects communities around wetlands. We urge the Central Government to consider how the new Rules will impact the communities and make these new Rules to be people-centric while keeping in mind protection of the larger ecosystem of wetlands,� Swapan Singha, programme manager, ActionAid, said.
During the event, the conglomeration of environmentalists, academicians, lawyers, activists and forest officials also proposed the introduction of a Wetland Conservation Act, which would be much more effective than the newly-proposed Wetland Rules. Traditional community rights also have to be retained, but without compromising on the delicate ecosystem of existing wetlands, they argued.
The recommendations made during the consultation would be forwarded to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests.