|Deccan Herald||29th December 2000|
The alarming rate of the levels of pollution and the contamination of water
have made fresh water a scarce commodity these days. Last fortnight 40 water
fowls including migratory ducks such as Shovellers and Garganeys died due to
suspected water contamination in Lingabudhi tank in Mysore. About a month
back, a major foaming incident occurred in Bellandur tank, which attracts
thousands of birds every year. A few years ago a sewer pipeline breakage at
the Sankey tank led to the death of many varieties of fish. Incidents such as
these are becoming more frequent. It is high time we gave a serious thought
to our wetlands.
A wetland simply means any land that is submerged under water for at least a part of the year. This term takes into account diverse habitats including lakes, rivers, floodplains, mangrove swamps, salt marshes and aritficial ones such as tanks. Wetlands have various uses including being reservoirs of water. Even the early signs of human civilisation are traced to wetlands where water from wetlands were used for drinking and irrigation purposes. This continues even today. Wetlands also help in recharging the groundwater and influencing the micro-climate.
"A wetland is not just another swimming pool or a tub of water. It is a living system supporting a variety of life-forms", says Dr. M B Krishna of the Birdwatchers Field Club of Bangalore. The most attractive life-forms talked about are the birds. Some of the wetlands of Bangalore and elsewhere support thousands of birds during winter including migratory ones.
"Apart from birds, they also support other varieties such as frogs and insects like dragonflies exclusively dependent on waterbodies for completion of their life-cycle. We need to look at them more as wildlife habitats having a variety of plants and animals rather than mere water reservoirs," points out S Karthikeyan of WWF-India.
Sadly, instead of using wetlands for imparting education of wildlife and on water resources,. they are more commonly used for recreation such as boating. Boating was introduced in Lalbagh tank thrice and each time expert committees have found that boating affects migratory birds. It was discontinues only to be revived later, adds Dr Krishna.
The tanks around Bangalore and elsewhere in the State originally were constructed mainly for harvesting rainwater for irrigation and drinking water supply by impounding the monsoon run-off in the valleys. Rapid industrialisatio and urbanisation in the recent ears have undoubtedly affected lakes and tanks in the city. In Bangalore and the surrounding region most of the effects of pollution irrespective of their origin generally end up in wetlands turning them into cess pools.
In spite of harbouring wildlife and holding a life-supporting resource such as water, wetlands are not given their due. They are instead used for dumping garbage, construction materials, discharges of sewage and industrial effluents. Wetlands are increasingly drained and converted into housing sites, stadium and commercial complexes. A recent study conducted by the Indian Institute of Science shows that Bangalore has lost about 35 per cent of its wetlands over a period of 25 years. Of the remaining ones about 40 per cent of them are polluted by sewage.
"A policy of assessing the environmental impacts of any city expansion plan by the BDA should be done in order to prevent wetlands from being converted into sites and used for discharging sewage. The town planners should be made aware of the concept of proper land-use planning and the importance of wetlands". says a senior official from the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
Our current approaches and the laws of control pollution are outdated. "We should be allowed into a water body only after assessing whether the receiving water body can take the amount of pollutants. If it cannot, then don't pollute the water body, even if the pollutant adheres to the current standard set under law", says Dr. K Lenin Baby of the Centre for Environmental Education Research and Advocacy (CEERA) of the National Law School of India Unversity. "The fine for polluters are nominal now. The costs of restoration and rehabilitation of the water body to its original state should be recovered from the polluters", adds Dr Lenin Babu.
The Centre and the State government do not have a policy for conservation of wetlands although India is a signatory to the 1971 Ramsar convention on Wetlands of International Importance. This makes India obligatory to protect, improve and conserve at least some of its important wetlands. But for some wetlands nothing is done for the rest.
Proposals for framing a wetland policy by the Centre has been there for almost a decade. Until a wetland policy emerges and agencies begin to at, polluted waterbodies with dead birds, wetlands choked with garbage and construction debris will be a common sight.