The Supreme Court today expressed concern over "vanishing" of wetlands in the country and asked the Centre to explain about the "huge amount" of money spent on various works related to preservation of the water bodies.
The Supreme Court today expressed concern over “vanishing” of wetlands in the country and asked the Centre to explain about the “huge amount” of money spent on various works related to preservation of the water bodies. A wetland is a land area that has water, either permanently or seasonally, and it takes on the characteristics of a distinct ecosystem. The apex court observed that a number of wetlands and lakes have disappeared and according to the reports, it was one of the reasons for the floods in Chennai in 2015.
“So many of these wetlands have vanished. In 2015, there were floods in Chennai. The reports said that there was flooding as wetlands have vanished. In areas like Bhopal and Bengaluru, lakes have disappeared,” a bench comprising Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta said. The government told the apex court that it has prepared a fresh affidavit giving details about identification and inventorising over two lakh wetlands in the country.
However, advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, appearing for petitioner M K Balakrishnan, said that the Centre has not yet complied with the earlier order passed by the apex court and it has not explained where the money has been spent. “There are two-three things. Huge amounts have been spent on it. We do not know where the money has been spent,” the bench told the counsel representing the Centre and asked as to “what steps have you taken on it?”
The top court had earlier expressed its concern over a huge expenditure of Rs 945.95 crore on various works related to wetlands and had said that the activities shown were extremely general in nature.
During the today’s hearing, the government counsel assured the bench that the Centre would take all steps to ensure that directions given by it were complied with. The bench referred to a recent report and asked the Centre whether it was planning to denotify wetlands. The government said there were reports that the West Bengal government was planning to denotify a wetland in East Kolkata, but it could not be done.
The bench asked the petitioner’s counsel to go through the Centre’s affidavit and posted the matter for further hearing after four weeks. The apex court had earlier expressed its dissatisfaction over the progress made by the government in the matter and also for not complying with its order on identification and inventorising wetlands and notifying the new rules. It had in February directed the Centre to notify the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2016 on or before June 30 this year.
The Centre had in April informed the court that it has constituted a Central Wetland Regulatory Authority (CWRA), but the ministries of Tourism and Social Justice and Empowerment had not nominated an officer, not below the rank of a joint secretary, to the authority. The top court had directed the two ministries to make the nomination at the earliest so that the CWRA could carry on with its mandate under the law. 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.
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 in consultation with the state governments. The Supreme Court, which has been examining the matter since 2001, 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 any prompt action.