Authored By: Chiradeep Basak
Out of 3513 wetlands in Assam, Deepor Beel bears a special status of being a Ramsar Site. In India, there are currently 37 such wetlands that are deemed to be of international importance under Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat 1971 (commonly known as Ramsar Convention), which was signed in the beautiful city of Ramsar, Iran. This is the first ever international agreement which deals with a specific ecosystem, a habitat type rather than a species oriented legal instrument. The prime objective of this international legal instrument is to consider the fundamental ecological functions of wetlands as regulators of water regimes and as habitats supporting a characteristic flora and fauna with special attention to waterfowl. In addition, the convention also aims to stem progressive encroachment on and the loss of wetlands. Wetlands plays a significant role in control of flood, erosion; purification of water and stabilization of shoreline. However, they are not immune from challenges and problems, which occur due to waste dumping, human settlement, watershed degradation, siltation, diversion of water supplies etc. The Ramsar Convention entered into force in India on February 1st, 1982. Recently on World Wetlands Day, India has designated 10 wetlands as Ramsar sites but how far we have effectively ensured conservation of these sites is a matter of great concern. Based on spatial imagery and scientific inputs from eminent NGO, Aranyak the Beel has shrunk by around 35% since 1991. The National Green Tribunal (NGT), Zonal Bench Kolkata in the matter of Rohit Chodhury v. Union of India[i] (dated 2017), has directed the Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority to survey, inspect and ascertain the nexus between encroachments and degradation of Beel. Deepor Beel has been under the scanner of NGT and environmentalists in last few years due to dumping of municipal solid wastes from Guwahati city and expanding human settlements. There has been a decline in number of migratory birds and even on January 22nd, 2017, around 22 greater Adjutant Storks were found dead in Beel. Albeit, the causation of these deaths are not clear but it is presumed to be due to consumption of trash dumped in Beel. The NGT even directed the Assam Government to shift its dumping site of Boragaon and take effective measures to prohibit further encroachments. Apparently, the NGT judgment rightly identifies and directs an environmentally sound redressal for the conservation of Deepor Beel but there are certain real time challenges, which cannot be ruled out. Waste Management and Handling is a rising problem in all major cities of our country and even wetlands have also taken the heavy toll of waste dumping. Since last few years, Deepor Beel is facing the similar problem.
There are certain state laws to conserve wetlands. Assam Hill Land and Ecological Sites (Protection and Management) Act, 2006 was enacted to provide preservation, protection, regulation, acquisition and maintenance of ecological sites of the state. Guwahati Water Bodies (Preservation and Conservation) Act, 2008 declares certain water bodies as ‘Protected Water Bodies’. As per this law, use of such water bodies is strictly prohibited. However, both of these laws have nose-dived due to their poor implementation. The Government of India has enacted the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules in 2017. According to this enactment, a State Wetlands Authority shall be constituted by Central Government. The state authority should have representation from several departments’ viz., forest, urban development, rural development, water resources, fisheries, tourism, revenue, wildlife, irrigation & flood control. In addition, scientific and technical experts are also part of this authority. This authority is also empowered to determine prohibited activities in wetlands. The given rule also restricts encroachment, setting up of industries, expansion of existing industries. With respect to waste dumping, the 2017 Rules explicitly restrict the storage, manufacture and disposal of several categories of wastes such as construction & demolition wastes, hazardous wastes, electronic wastes, solid waste, in a wetland. However, the given Rules is silent about plastic wastes and any reference to Plastic Waste (Management and Handling Rules) 2011 and its subsequent amendment of 2016. We are yet to see if the government will effectively comply with the 2017 rules and ensure proper enforcement by creating an active overseer probably with the name Assam State Wetlands Authority. A proper and environmentally sound management of Deepor Beel and other wetlands will be an add on to the State’s endeavor of Awesome Assam by not only adding value to its tourism but also enriching the entire biodiversity reserve of this beautiful state of Assam.
In spite of all positive endeavors in form of rules, policies and schemes, we have also immensely failed in accepting our responsibility as a citizen and as a community. At every level, we have failed to equitably share our common efforts. The state is a public trustee and it bears a responsibility to protect, preserve and conserve any common natural resources and ecosystem but we as a beneficiary also share a common responsibility with the state and authorities to preserve this ecologically sensitive ecosystem. We contribute to Municipal Solid Waste generation and therefore it is also up to us to act sustainably and responsibly.
We, the individuals in all walks of life as well as entities in many fields, by our values and our sum of actions can only shape a sustainable and inhabitable environment for present and future generations.
[i] Rohit Chaudhary v. Union of India, Original Application No. 25/2014/EZ.
Mr. Chiradeep Basak is Assistant Professor of Law at National Law University and Judicial Academy, Assam.