February 2, 2021, marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, in Ramsar, Iran. The day is also celebrated annually as the World Wetlands Day. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is the intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.

The contracting parties to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands recognise the fundamental ecological functions of wetlands as regulators of water regimes and as habitats supporting a characteristic flora and fauna and that wetlands constitute a resource of great economic, cultural, scientific, and recreational value, the loss of which would be irreparable.

The Convention uses a broad definition of wetlands. It includes all lakes and rivers, underground aquifers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands, peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, mangroves and other coastal areas, coral reefs, and all human-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs and salt pans.

Ramsar Convention defines the ‘wise use’ of wetlands as “the maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development”. Ecosystem approach requires consideration of the complex relationship between various ecosystem elements and promotion of integrated management of land, water and living resources.

Wise use, through an emphasis on sustainable development, calls for resource use patterns which can ensure that human dependence on wetlands can be maintained not only in the present but also in the future. Seen in totality, wise use is about maintaining and enhancing wetland values and functions to ensure the maintenance of the flow of benefits from wetlands (their ecosystem services) from an intergenerational equity point of view.

The Convention entered into force in India on 1 February 1982. India currently has 42 sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Sites), with a surface area of 1,081,438 hectares. As part of the Convention, India has reiterated its commitment towards conservation, restoration and management of its wetlands. On the occasion of the World Wetlands Day on February 2, 2021, the Indian Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Babul Supriyo announced the establishment of a Centre for Wetland Conservation and Management (CWCM), as a part of the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM), Chennai, an institution under the Ministry. The event was attended virtually by NCSCM, State Wetland Authorities and the knowledge partners of the Wetland Division.

The Centre will help in building partnership and networks with relevant national and international agencies would serve as a knowledge hub and enable exchange between State/Union Territories (UT) Wetland Authorities, wetland users, managers, researchers, policy-makers and practitioners.
The Centre would also assist the national and State/ UT Governments in the design and implementation of policy and regulatory frameworks, management planning, monitoring and targeted research for its conservation.

Speaking at the launch, the Indian Minister of State for Environment highlighted the importance of wetlands in providing various ecosystem services. “The dedicated Centre which is launched today would address specific research needs and knowledge gaps and will aid in the application of integrated approaches for conservation, management and wise use of the wetlands,” Supriyo remarked.

India is committed towards the protection of its wetlands and in 2020, published guidelines to support state governments in the implementation of the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017, that had decentralised wetlands management by giving states powers to not only identify and notify wetlands within their jurisdictions but also keep a watch on prohibited activities.

The 2020 guidelines clarified that all wetlands, irrespective of their location, size, ownership, biodiversity, or ecosystem services values, can be notified under the Wetlands Rules 2017, except river channels, paddy fields, human-made waterbodies specifically constructed for drinking water, aquaculture, salt production, recreation, irrigation purposes, wetlands falling within areas covered under the Indian Forest Act, 1927, Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 2011.

Photo Credit : https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shayarbrithi_wetland_in_Santiniketan,_West_Bengal,_India.jpg