Outlook, 13 July 2017
It had said that the court was compelled to issue the deadline as the matter had been pending with the Centre for the last almost a year and there had to be some finality to the publication of the rules
The Supreme Court today slapped Rs 50,000 as costs on the Ministry of environment and Forests (MoEF) for not complying with its order on identification and inventorising over two lakh wetlands in the country and notifying the new rules.
The apex court had in February directed the Centre to notify Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2016 on or before June 30 this year.
A wetland is a land area that is saturated with water, either permanently or seasonally and it takes on the characteristics of a distinct ecosystem.
A bench of Justices M B Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta directed the Centre to file its detail affidavit by July 20 and imposed Rs 50,000 as costs for non-compliance of its earlier order.
Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan, appearing for petitioner M K Balakrishnan, informed the court that no such rules have been notified nor wetlands have been inventorised.
The Centre had in April informed the apex court that it has constituted Central Wetland Regulatory Authority (CWRA), but the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment had not nominated an officer not below the rank of a joint secretary to the authority.
The top court had directed that the two ministries to make the nomination at the earliest so that the CWRA could carry on with its mandate under the law.
It had also expressed its concern over a huge expenditure of Rs 945.95 crore on the various works related to the wetlands and said that the activities shown were extremely general in nature.
It had also directed the various high courts to monitor the management of 26 sites identified in the Ramsar Convention of 1971 on wetlands till there was some visible improvement as these were international heritage. A Ramsar site is a wetland of international importance under the convention.
The apex court had requested the chief justices of different high courts to treat the affidavit as a suo motu PIL and, if necessary, appoint an amicus curiae to assist the court so as to ensure that the Ramsar Convention sites within their jurisdiction were properly maintained.
The apex court had in February directed the Centre to come up with new rules by June 30 to preserve ecologically crucial wetlands.
Central agencies have identified over two lakh wetlands in the country through satellite imagery made by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).
The ISRO had in 2011 prepared a national wetlands atlas on the basis of satellite imagary and 2,01,503 wetlands were mapped.
The apex court had asked the Centre to inventorise all 2,01,503 wetlands to protect them and notify in consultation with the state governments.
It had said that the court was compelled to issue the deadline as the matter had been pending with the Centre for the last almost a year and there had to be some finality to the publication of the rules.
The top court, which has been examining the matter sinmce 2001, had emphasised the importance of the conservation of wetland, saying it was of “immense ecological importance” and there was no justification for the Centre not taking any prompt action.