The notification of the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010 has provided a legal framework for protecting an ecosystem that has come under serious threat from unregulated development activity. Wetlands provide a range of ecosystem services, not the least of which is water security to vast regions housing millions of people. If cities depend on them as reservoirs and flood control systems, rural communities derive basic sustenance from these marvels of nature. It is welcome, therefore, that the rules prohibit some of the more destructive activities that have wiped out a large number of wetlands in several States. Inland and coastal wetlands have been lost over the years due to reclamation, conversion to industrial use, dumping of solid waste, discharge of untreated sewage from cities and towns and effluents from industries, and encroachment for construction. The Ministry of Environment and Forests has acted commendably to stop this tragic course. But the conservation effort can succeed only if the Central Wetlands Regulatory Authority created under the new rules has sufficient independence to work with the State governments and local authorities to identify and protect water bodies. Also, it is important to allay, through vigorous action, the apprehension among research scientists that the Authority may not have the freedom to pursue its mandate considering that the Secretary in the same Ministry heads it.

A good beginning has been made by extending the rules to, among others, 25 wetland sites listed under the Ramsar Convention. Some of them are also covered by other environmental protection laws pertaining to forests and wildlife. In addition to the biodiversity-rich Ramsar sites, there are several less-known wetlands in India that have been documented by the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History. All of these are demonstrably important to local communities and potentially qualify for protected status. The real test for the new rules lies in the ability of the Authority to monitor the actions of the nodal department in the States, which will be responsible for enforcement. These departmental personnel must ensure the health of wetlands that fall outside the jurisdiction of the Forest department. There is a growing community of environmentalists who are keenly documenting the state of water bodies. All that the Authority has to do is to enlist these community conservationists as its voluntary field workers to maintain the vigil. State governments and local bodies, which are now on deadline to end the disposal of waste and effluents into wetlands, must move with alacrity to enforce the rules.

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