India Issues Rules to Protect Wetlands, Restricts Activities, Creates New Authority

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MUMBAI--India's environment ministry Dec. 2 issued new rules for wetlands conservation and management that restrict construction and dumping of untreated waste in wetland areas.

The new Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules 2010 do allow activities such as fishing and dredging to be carried out with permission from state authorities.

The regulations took effect Dec. 2, marking the first time that legally enforceable rules have been framed to regulate activity in wetlands in India.

The rules are designed to ensure conservation and to prevent degradation of wetlands, which support biodiversity and are rich ecosystems, the Ministry of Environment and Forests said in an online statement.

Over one-third of India's wetlands, which dot large parts of the country's more than 7,000 kilometers (4,350 miles) of coastline, have been destroyed or badly damaged by human-caused pollution and what some scientists believe are the effects of global warming. This is cause for worry in India, as a large number of people depend on wetlands for drinking water, food, and livelihoods, the ministry said.

Authority to Identify Wetland Areas.

The rules will be implemented by a Central Wetlands Regulatory Authority set up for the purpose. The authority is made up of wetlands experts and government representatives.

The authority will identify wetland areas in consultation with state governments, which will have one year to prepare a list and to classify them according to criteria specified in the rules.

The authority will grant approvals for activities permitted with prior consent and also will specify threshold levels for activities to be regulated and how activities may be carried out in wetlands. The authority also will oversee conservation and “wise use” of wetlands by state governments.

Authority decisions can be appealed to the National Green Tribunal within 60 days of the decision date.

Restricted Activities.

The rules specify the activities restricted in wetlands, which include reclamation and setting up new industries or expanding existing ones.

Any construction of a permanent nature, except boat jetties within 50 meters (164 feet) of the mean high flood level observed during the past 10 years, will be restricted.

Manufacture, handling, transport, or discharge of hazardous substances is also restricted in wetlands.

“Hazardous” substances are those defined as such under the Manufacture, Storage, and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules of 1989, the Rules for Manufacture, Use, Import, Export, and Storage of Hazardous Micro-organisms/Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells notified in 1989, or the Hazardous Waste (Management, Handling, and Transboundary Movement) Rules of 2008.

Dumping of solid wastes also has been restricted. Practices in existence before the Dec. 2 commencement date of the rules must be phased out within six months, while discharges of untreated wastes and effluents from industries and urban areas or other human settlements must be completely stopped within one year.

Phaseout of Dumping.

No wetland will be converted to non-wetland use without permission based on an environmental impact assessment report. Activities that involve withdrawal, diversion, or interruption of water flow may be undertaken, but only with prior consent.

Harvesting of living and non-living resources and plying of motorized boats will also require prior consent. This provision of the rules will impact fishermen and could provoke much opposition. Aquaculture, agriculture, and horticulture within the wetlands also will require permission and may likewise be opposed by those impacted.

Treated effluent discharge and dredging also will require permission.

By Madhur Singh

Full text of the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules 2010 from India's Ministry of Environment and Forests is available at