Unsatisfactory state of affairs: NGT intervenes to protect Kerala’s Ramsar site

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Taking note of a plea stating serious environmental degradation due to decade-old dumping of waste and sewage in Ashtamudi Wetland, the gateway to Kerala’s backwaters, the National Green Tribunal has stressed the need for an integrated management plan for the protection of the vulnerable Ramsar site in Kollam district.

“The situation mentioned in the complaint, if true, shows the unsatisfactory state of affairs calling for immediate remedial action on the part of the State Authorities,” said the NGT bench headed by Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel.

Alleging failure to take remedial action for protecting Ashtamudi Wetland and Vembanad-Kol wetland, the petitioner stated that the wetland has become a polluted drain of the city due to dumping of pharmaceutical waste, plastic waste, domestic waste, slaughter-house waste, and in numerous other sources.

The canal passes right through the centre of the city which is less than a kilometre from the District Collectorate and other government offices, leads to National Water Highway, and Ashtamudi wetland and Vembanad Kol wetlands, both are protected under Ramsar Convention. These wetlands provide habitat for a considerable number of flora and fauna and migratory birds too. The district authorities and state authorities have been neglecting the situation for decades, the plea alleged.

Considering the plea, the green court sought immediate remedial action by the state authorities for compliance under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 as well as Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017 and judgments of the Supreme Court. The erring officers need to be held accountable for such failure and an appropriate action plan prepared and executed for the protection of the environment and public health and also discharge of constitutional obligations in terms of Public Trust doctrine, the bench said.

The bench also took into account a detailed article titled ‘Environment Problems and Management Aspects of Vembanad Kol Wetlands in South West Coast of India’, by K.N. Remani, P. Jayakumar and T.K. Jalaja, Centre for Water Resources Development and Management.

The area in question is part of the critically vulnerable coastal area which calls for the preparation of an integrated management plan as per CRZ Notification, 2011 and 2019, it said.

“Accordingly, we direct the Chief Secretary, Kerala to forthwith call a meeting of concerned departments, including district administration, State Wetland Authority and Kerala State Coastal Zone Management Authority (KSCZMA),” the bench said in the order passed on Monday.

The NGT, further, directed the National Wetland Authority to take cognizance of the problem since the site in question is Ramsar site. The State Pollution Control Board needs to enforce environmental clearance conditions applicable to pharmaceutical units and boat houses as well as other authorities dumping of waste and to take appropriate action by way of prosecution and stopping polluting activity.

The Chief Secretary, Kerala, National Wetland Authority, State PCB, Public Health Department, Irrigation Department, Urban Development Department and Environment Department may file their respective action taken reports in the matter within three months, it said.

The bench will hear the matter further on July 6.

(Jaison Wilson can be reached at jaison.w@ians.in)

20220301-142405

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