Navi Mumbai: Falling Wetland Numbers Raise Concerns; Environmentalists Seek Clarity On Missing 7,137 Sites

Navi Mumbai: Falling Wetland Numbers Raise Concerns; Environmentalists Seek Clarity On Missing 7,137 Sites

23,055 wetlands sites identified in 2022; In 2023, wetlands drastically reduced to 15,918 whereas, at national level, the number of such Wetlands has increased from 2.01 lakh to 2.31 lakh

Bhalchandra ChorghadeUpdated: Tuesday, March 12, 2024, 01:33 AM IST
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In what could be called a classic case of contradiction, the Maharashtra government, in an affidavit filed in 2022 in the Bombay High Court, identified 23,055 wetlands sites in the state spanning over 2.25 Ha of land in size. However, in the agreement entered with the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM) in July 2023 the number of wetlands has drastically reduced to 15,918 whereas, at the national level, the number of such wetlands has increased from 2.01 lakh to 2.31 lakh.

This has prompted the environmentalists to know how the figure of 15,918 wetlands has arrived. They also seek to know what happened to missing 7,137 wetlands and why the authorities not making a list of wetlands available to the public? On World Wetland Day 2018, the government introduced a wetlands monitoring app initially intended for officials, with plans for future public release. Despite discussions, the app’s public launch is still pending.

HP

Using data from the Space Application Centre (SAC) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), officials identified 32,000 wetlands in Maharashtra, a decrease from the 44,714 estimated in the 2011 National Wetland Atlas.

The app, designed for regular monitoring, remains largely undisclosed to the public. Officials from each district, armed with login IDs, were assigned to visit and monitor wetland sites regularly. They were expected to submit reports on site statuses and flag areas in need of restoration. District officers underwent training to use the app effectively.

In 2018, the government initiated the first survey of wetlands in Maharashtra, starting from Sindhudurg and extending across the state. The survey aimed to collect biodiversity data and support conservation efforts. To validate satellite mapping, officials visited sites, geo-tagged locations, and recorded ecological details like flora, fauna, aquatic vegetation, water use, depth, hydrology, pH value, and soil texture. This information is accessible through the 'Wetlands of Maharashtra' app.

The overarching goal of this exercise was to conserve these crucial ecological features, playing essential roles in water storage, flood mitigation, erosion control, aquifer recharge, micro-climate regulation, and aesthetic enhancement.

"Why was the wetlands monitoring app suddenly withdrawn, wiping out district-wise data? Why spend Rs24 crore when students could have done it inexpensively? Is the government bowing to pressure from developers denying wetland existence, ignoring reputable organisations, and jeopardizing public safety for private gain?" asked Sunil Agrawal, Founder of Navi Mumbai Environment Protection Group.

Stalin Dayanand from Vanashakti said, "This deliberate act favors specific interests, ignoring court mandates to protect all wetlands. It’s a waste of public funds for the benefit of a select few." All efforts to get in touch with state environment department officials proved futile.

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