Stop the "Great Wetland Robbery"!
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Shree Aditya Thackeray,
Environment Minister, Government of Maharashtra
The Environment Protection Act (EPA) and the Wetland Rules of India, along with the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands to which India is a signatory have enacted several provisions for the protection and conservation of the water bodies and wetlands of our country - including ponds, tanks, rivers, creeks, lakes and various other geographical features that qualify as Wetlands under these Acts, Rules and Conventions.
Therefore, any water body or wetland that comes under the ambit of these laws/rules cannot be exploited for any purpose than those allowed for enriching these natural treasures.
It is really grave that despite reliable resources like the National Wetland Atlas establishing the existence of 44714 water bodies and wetlands of different types in the state, Maharashtra has done very little so far in protecting and conserving them. Until now, it has just notified only a handful of these as Ramsar sites, that too after a long fight for them. The State Wetland Authority is also yet to comply with past judgments of both the Supreme Court and Bombay High Court, which has clearly ordered them to urgently notify all wetlands in the State.
To top all of of these, recent actions of the Maharashtra Government makes a complete mockery of all constitutional and legal conventions. In stead of notifying the remaining thousands of wetlands, in order to protect them, the government has apparently moved in a completely disastrous direction.
In a wetland mapping carried out by officials of the state, it has come out officially that the Lion's share of the 44714 wetlands of the state has been deliberately "not verified" and left out from the lists of wetlands for the purpose of notification. This is sadly happening in contrary and complete disregard to the detailed verification carried out by a committee of experts appointed by the same department to which these officials belong. For example, in the district of Raigad out of 130 wetlands only 4 has been verified by these officials while in the case of Thane out of 116 only 8 have been verified. Going by this, several thousands of wetlands could face the danger of being concretized, leading to severe loss of water security and local livelihood in addition to irreversible destruction of flora and fauna. All this, when the world is looking up to this country in the fight against climate change and other serious impacts of environment degradation.
This act by the officials goes completely against the principles of our country's laws as well as the Ramsar Convention. And it smells clearly of a nexus that exists between officials and those who want to exploit the wetlands for their selfish ends. This can be clearly seen in cases of the many water bodies in Kharghar, like the one in Sector 19, that has already been reclaimed despite strong protests by citizens even to the extent taking the government department responsible to the High Court. Similar cases also exists in nearby Seawood in Navi Mumbai where the development authority is eyeing a biodiversity hotspot of international class for developing residential high rises and a golf course! Another one being that of Panje in Uran which used to be once the mecca of birders from all over the country, where the locals are fighting to save it from the clutches of private companies to which the previous administration seems to have pawned it off.
I as a concerned citizen of Maharashtra and the resident of Kharghar in Panvel Taluka of Raigad district strongly oppose the current policy of the State administration and its allied agencies to do away with the natural treasures like the water bodies and wetlands which everyone including a child would know the value of preserving, which I don't think is necessary to spell out, but for the record I cover briefly as below.
Kharghar (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kharghar) is one of the most naturally rich nodes of Navi Mumbai, lined by a hill range on one side and the Kharghar/Panvel creek on the other. Water streams and water bodies have been historically found all over the node which has been developed on top of many of these unfortunately. Due to the threat from illegal reclamation, citizens have been keenly documenting these wetlands with the aim to conserve them (see: https://tinyurl.com/u69cbse) and have regularly raised complaints and written to various authorities with an aim to save these. Rich with biodiversity (refer to: https://tinyurl.com/wkux48g) these wetlands play hosts to endangered and migratory birds such as the Greater Flamingo, Painted stork, Black headed ibis, Black tailed godwit, Curlew sandpiper, Wooly necked stork
and the Greater spotted eagle. Their value to not only Kharghar's sustenance but also to the enivironmental balance and safety of citizens of the whole of Navi Mumbai is well document here: https://tinyurl.com/wk7zo63
In light of the above, I pray upon you to direct the State Wetland Authority to urgently:
(a) Identify and inventorize all wetlands including man-made wetlands, paddy fields, coastal wetlands and wetlands of all sizes including those below 2.25 hectares and prepare Brief Documents;
(b) In addition, in the Brief Documents prepared for each district, include:
- All wetlands verified by the experts in every district;
- All man-made wetlands, paddy fields, coastal wetlands and wetlands of all sizes including those below 2.25 hectares.
(c) Make time bound provisions for actions including fencing, erecting CCTV, security personnel etc. to prevent illegal activities in these wetlands.
(d) Notify all these wetlands under the relevant Wetland Rules and Environment Protection Act of the country.
Nareshchandra Singh Laishram
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