Assam's rivers and wetlands which crisis cross the state may soon lose the much needed protection under the Central Government's new Draft Wetland Rules 2016, a consultation meeting said today.
To analyse the impact of the new Draft Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules 2016 on wetlands of Assam, environment groups Aaranyak and ActionAid jointly organised a consultation in Guwahati.
Comparing the Wetland Rules 2010 with the Draft Wetland Rules 2016, the consultation found that the new Wetland Rules offers very few protective measures to Assam's wetlands when compared to the 2010 Rules.
The consultation suggested a complete revision of the Draft Wetland Rules 2016 to ensure better Wetland management and conservation in Assam.
Aaranyak's Wetlands expert Dr Partha J Das stated, "Many important provisions which were included in 2010 have now been removed from the new Draft rules which is alarming from an environmental perspective.
For instance, rivers have now been completely excluded from the definition of 'Wetlands'.
" Today's consultation recommended that at least those parts of a river or rivers directly connected to wetlands should also be recognised as part of the Wetland ecosystem and provided protection.
It was also recommended that in the context of Assam's wetlands, the connecting channels must be accorded similar protection, maintenance and restoration.
The new Draft rules fail to mention the list of prohibited activities which were part of Wetland Rules 2010, which must be rectified immediately with the re-inclusion of the list to protect Assam's wetlands, Das said.
Stating under the Draft Wetland Rules 2016 only
selective Wetland would be accorded protection, the meeting was of the view that the new Rules are therefore considerably weaker when compared to the 2010 version with an added Clause which states that 'under special circumstances' even these protection may be nullified.
"Such a clause can easily open a portal of exploitation of Wetlands in Assam, and it is of utmost importance that under no circumstance is the protection diluted," he added.
The key note presentation was delivered by Prasanna Barua of Assam Remote Sensing Application Centre, Department of Science and Technology, Government of Assam.
Barua provided an overview of the current status of wetlands in Assam and highlighted the challenges in wetland conservation.
The conglomeration of environmentalists, academicians, lawyers and activists gathered during the event also proposed the introduction of a Wetland Conservation Act, which would be much more effective than the newly proposed Wetland Rules.
Traditional community rights also have to be retained, but without compromising on the delicate eco-system of existing Wetlands, the meeting averred.
"Assam has more than 3000 wetlands under different categories and these wetlands are part and parcel of the larger eco-system.
Gradual and changing 'development' work has led to degradation of important wetlands which also negatively effects communities around Wetlands", commented ActionAid Programme Manager Swapan Singha.
"We urge the Central Government to consider how the new Rules will impact the communities and make these new Rules to be people-centric while keeping in mind protection of the larger eco-system of Wetlands," Singha said.
The meeting decided to forward to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest the recommendations made during the consultation.
Aaranyak is a registered society working in the North East region for the past 26 years towards nourishing the area's natural heritage to secure the flora and fauna in the region known as one of the biodiversity hot spots of the world.