New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday blasted the Centre for not complying with its order to frame rules for preservation of wetlands and warned that it would send the environment secretary behind bars if the government failed to give a roadmap within a week for conservation of wetlands.In April, the apex court had set a deadline of June-end for the government to notify Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, but the Centre sought six more months to implement the law. A bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta got infuriated when told that its order had not been complied with. Without mincing words, the court said the government was not serious in conserving wetlands which could result in environmental and ecological disaster.
Wetlands are defined as areas of land that are either temporarily or permanently covered by water. They play a crucial role in hydrological cycle like helping in storm and flood control, water supply, providing food, fibre and raw materials. They also support lakhs of migratory birds coming from colder regions of the world in summers, apart from diverse local flora and fauna.
The bench noted that although the government talked about its commitment to the Paris Accord on climate change, it was not concerned about environment protection in the country. “You have taken us for a ride and you are making proceedings in the Supreme Court a joke. It seems that the Centre is not bothered about our orders. There is a complete lack of seriousness,” the bench said.
The court reminded the Centre that being a signatory to the 1971 International Convention on Wetlands, it was bound to frame policy for their preservation. “We are not talking about a small issue but the international convention. How will you face the international community and what will you tell them about its implementation?” the court asked and slapped a fine of Rs 50,000 on the Centre.
With wetlands being encroached upon by a number of land grabbing activities, including by builders and governments for various projects, some environmentalists had approached the SC for their conservation. The court has been examining the issue since 2001 and has passed various orders. It had directed the Centre to take immediate steps to protect around 2 lakh wetlands across the country which was mapped by ISRO through satellite imagery.
Senior advocate Jayant Bhushan and lawyer Gopal Sankaranarayanan, appearing for the petitioners, said the Centre had been consistently flouting various the court’s orders and pleaded that action be taken against officials. They said the government had released more than Rs 900 crore over the years but the expenditure was never not audited.
Centre’s counsel Ashok Panda said the court should seek explanation from states on how they had spent the money but the bench was not satisfied. It, however, granted one week to the Centre to take a clear stand on how it intended to protect wetlands. It said the government’s response was unsatisfactory and no progress was made such it passed the order.
In 2011, ISRO had prepared a national wetlands atlas on the basis of satellite imagery and 2,01,503 wetlands were mapped. Total wetlands area was estimated at 15.26 million hectares (mha), or 4.63% of the country’s area.
State-wise distribution showed that Lakshadweep had 96.12% of its area under wetlands followed by Andaman and Nicobar Islands (18.52%), Daman and Diu (18.46%), Gujarat (17.56%), Puducherry (12.88%), West Bengal (12.48%), Assam (9.74%), Tamil Nadu (6.92%), Goa (5.76%), Andhra Pradesh (5.26%) and Uttar Pradesh (5.16%).
The least extent were observed in Mizoram (0.66%), Haryana (0.86%), Delhi (0.93%), Sikkim (1.05%), Nagaland (1.30%) and Meghalaya (1.34%).
Amit Anand Choudhary | TNN | Jul 13, 2017, 09:20 PM IST/Times of India, 14 July 2017