Need for wise use of wetlands

The wetlands need to be protected for a proper and healthy environment enabling people to enjoy a quality life
Last Updated : 11 November 2021, 21:37 IST

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Wetlands which broadly include lakes, tanks and ponds support rich biodiversity rendering highly productive eco-services like water storage, flood control, erosion control, groundwater recharge, wastewater treatment, habitat for plants and animals, and micro-climate regulation. These eco-fragile wetlands are being widely threatened by systematic degradation and exploitation due to encroachment, dumping of solid waste, industrial effluents and domestic sewage in the name of urbanisation.

Wetland governance in Karnataka is presently administered under Karnataka Tank Conservation and Development Authority (KTCDA) Act, 2014. Consequent to the mandate of Wetland (Conservation & Management) Rules, 2017, the state government has notified the constitution of 'Karnataka State Wetland Authority (KSWA)' to be a nodal agency for conservation of wetlands in the state. The KSWA needs to be configured as a legal entity in place of KTCDA as the latter cannot legally bind various wetland conservation agencies. Also, the KTCDA Act does not embody in itself the obligatory duties of municipalities and gram panchayats for complying with the constitutional mandate specified under Article 243-G and 243-W regarding wetland conservation.

This makes it imperative for a new law substituting KTCDA Act through the proposed KSWA Bill with the widened scope and covering inter-organisational relationship, control and coordination amongst all wetland conservation agencies. The KSWA Bill incorporates comprehensive structural and systemic as well as town planning reforms to empower KSWA to prohibit conversion of land for non-agricultural purposes and inclusion of wise use of wetlands and their zone of influence in the zoning or development control regulations for building construction.

The Bill is made applicable to the entire state both in urban and rural areas covering 11,412 wetlands as listed in National Wetland Inventory,2010, whether they are inland or coastal areas to both natural and man-made wetlands. The KSWA Bill contemplates the involvement of district and local self-governing administration for driving the activities listed under the new law in the form of the Bengaluru Metropolitan Wetland Committee (BMWC) and District Wetland Committees (DWCs).

The BMWC’s jurisdiction spans over Bengaluru Urban, Bengaluru Rural and Ramanagara districts. The BMWC is headed by the Chief Minister and consists of the Mayor of BBMP and Presidents of Zilla Panchayats as its members. The Chief Commissioner, BBMP, Commissioner, BDA, Chairman, BWSSB and Deputy Commissioners of concerned districts are also the members of BMWC. The DWCs are headed by district-in-charge ministers, consisting of Mayors of the municipal corporations and Presidents of municipalities and grama panchayats within each district.

The KSWA Bill envisages that the government shall designate a Special Court for each district in consultation with the High Court, to try the offences under the provisions of the Bill. Anybody aggrieved by its order or judgement can file an appeal or revision before the High Court.

Regulatory bodies

The setting up of the Bengaluru Metropolitan Wetland Protection Force (BMWPF) and District Wetland Protection Force (DWPF) are contemplated under the KSWA Bill. The BMWPF is headed by the Inspector General of Police and the DWPF is headed by DC jointly with SP. The BMWPF and DWPF will strengthen KSWA, BMWC and DWCs to function as effective regulatory bodies.

The main function of KSWA is to secure ‘wise use’ of wetlands for the maintenance of their ecological character and the eco-services that they provide in the context of sustainable development of the state. The KSWA is responsible for public notification of all wetlands and the preparation and adoption of the integrated management plan for each of them.

The Bill mandates penalties up to Rs 5 lakh and/or imprisonment for a term of five years which is expected to strengthen the enforcement machinery to secure adherence to the law. It envisages that the audit report of KSWA prepared and submitted by the Accountant General and the gazette notification of the list of geo-tagged and surveyed wetlands be placed before the legislature to enhance accountability.

Going forward, the state government is bound to comply with the mandate of Article 48-A of the Constitution to foster the principle of ‘doctrine of public trust’ and ‘precautionary principle’ as quoted by the National Green Tribunal in its order and take proactive measures to enact the proposed KSWA Bill, 2021 soon. These wetlands need to be protected for a proper and healthy environment enabling people to enjoy a quality life as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

(The writers are Directors, Centre for Urban Governance Studies & Policy Research, Bengaluru)

Published 11 November 2021, 16:53 IST

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