The Madras High Court on Thursday wanted to know why only one wetland complex, the Point Calimere Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary, in Tamil Nadu had been declared as a protected site under the 1971 Ramsar Convention to which India is a signatory, though it is estimated that wetlands were spread over 9,02,534 hectares working out to 6.92% of the total geographic area of the State.
First Division Bench of Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari and Justice D. Bharatha Chakravarthy directed Additional Advocate General J. Ravindran to apprise the court within two weeks about the status of a recent proposal forwarded by the State government to the Union Ministry of Environment of Forests for declaring 13 more significant wetlands in the State as Ramsar sites.
The judges also wanted to know by when all wet lands in the State would be demarcated and notified under the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules of 2017 so that they could be protected and preserved under the statutory provisions. The questions were raised during the hearing of a suo motu writ petition taken up by the court in 2017 for conserving and protecting the wetlands.
Senior counsel P.S. Raman, who had been appointed as an amicus curiae in the case, said the suo motu writ petition was taken up by the court following Supreme Court orders. He said, areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt including areas of marine water with a depth not exceeding six metres at low tide had been defined as wetlands.
The wetlands could be either natural or artificial but they would not include river channels, paddy fields, man-made water bodies/tanks specifically constructed for drinking water purposes and structures specifically constructed for aquaculture, salt production, recreation and irrigation purposes. Two or more ecologically and hydrologically contiguous wetlands would make a wetland complex.
He told the judges that the wetlands in the State had only been identified and inventoried. They were yet to be notified. The amicus also referred to a status report filed by the Tamil Nadu State Wetland Authority (TNSWA) wherein it was stated that the State government, for the first time, had launched Tamil Nadu Wetlands Mission on August 13, 2021 for eco restoration of 100 wetlands in the next five years.
Pallikaranai bird sanctuary
The TNSWA also said that it had submitted a proposal with the government to notify 12 wetlands in the State under the 2017 Rules. Works were also afoot to notify 32 wet lands around the Pallikaranai marshland in Chennai. Steps to declare the Pallikaranai marsh as a bird sanctuary under the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 was also under progress, the Authority told the court.
Listing out other measures being taken to protect the Pallikaranai marsh, the TNSWA Member Secretary Deepak Srivastava said, Alandur dump yard had been almost shifted out from the marshland. However, the Perungudi garbage dump was yet to be shifted and the Chennai District Forest Officer had been following up the issue with the Greater Chennai Corporation persistently, he said.
Communications had also been sent to the Municipal Administration Secretary since November 2021 for identification of source of municipal solid wastes and sewage inlet points draining into the marsh and to take suitable action to arrest disposal of municipal waste and untreated effluents. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board had been asked to take samples and report on the health status of the marsh, the Authority added.