Two notifications on wetlands issued by the Union environment ministry on December 14 have puzzled legal activists who have been campaigning for protection of wetlands. One of these notifications is to announce the constitution of Central Wetlands Regulatory Authority (CWRA) -the nodal agency for identification, conservation and protection of wetlands- for a term of just two months.

The other notification omits two clauses in the Wetland Rules 2010 on the constitution and term of the CWRA. This notification states that the authority will be constituted under the Environment Protection Act instead of under the Wetland Rules. Under the 2010 rules, the term of CWRA was for 3 years.

These developments are significant because the National Green Tribunal (NGT) is hearing an application seeking directions to the government to identify all wetlands in the country as specified in the Wetlands Rules (Conservation and Management) 2010.

Environmentalists had filed two separate applications in NGT following a draft notification issued by the Union environment ministry in March 2016 on Wetlands Rules 2016 -- a much watered down version of Wetland Rules 2010.

In July 2016, NGT, while hearing the environmentalists' plea, had directed that the CWRA hold meetings with all states and UTs every month to identify and notify all wetlands in the country. Before this order, CWRA had met only thrice since 2010.

Again, on December 6, 2016, NGT ordered that CWRA hold a meeting on December 21 with representatives of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Mizoram, Nagaland, Telangana, Uttarakhand, Daman & Diu, Lakshadweep, Chhattisgarh and Arunachal Pradesh to discuss delineation of wetlands.

"Is the ministry going to reconstitute the authority on a temporary basis from time to time? One notification has constituted the CWRA for a period of 2 months only... it seems like the ministry is paving way for finalising the diluted Wetland Rules 2016," said members of EIA Resource and Response Centre -- an NGO focusing on environment impact assessment, in a statement.

"Interestingly, in the ongoing litigation in NGT, the tribunal had ordered CWRA to meet every month and submit a compliance report, along with minutes of each meeting. It also seems like a clever ploy by the ministry to manoeuvre around the tribunals orders," they added.

As per the December 14, 2016 notification, CWRA members include secretary of the ministry of environment, representatives from ministry of tourism, water resources, agriculture and social welfare, the central pollution control board (CPCB), senior scientific adviser of Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) Asad R Rahmani, ecology expert C K Varshney and hydrology expert E J James.

Source: January 16, 2017, The Times of India