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Wetlands in India

Wetlands are the link between water and land. These ecologically sensitive areas are getting depleted fast, causing a threat to the environment. Wetlands are areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water (permanent or temporary), with water that is static or flowing. They can be natural or manmade.

Wetland characteristics:
The soil must remain water logged or submerged for whole or part of the year. The wetland biota depends upon and is adapted to this water logging or submergence during atleast part of their life cycle.

India has a varied terrain and climate that supports a rich diversity of inland and coastal wetland habitats which are unique ecosystems. The health of inland freshwater wetlands affects the health of coastal wetlands also. They hold rainwater, snowmelt and sediments; act as filters, thereby protecting and purifying sources of drinking water.

Wetlands have the dual capacity of being ‘water providers’ and ‘water users’. Being critical components of the water cycle that delivers the fresh water, the wetlands need some quantities of water to keep their functions in perfect order. Wetland and water play an important role in the livelihood security of the rural poor. 

Globalization has prevented rural communities from developing trading initiatives to market wetland products. Promoting sustainable trade in wetland products is a way to alleviate poverty and conserve wetland.

Wetlands Help In:
  • Controlling floods
  • Water storage or supply
  • Water purification, retention of pollutants/nutrients/sediments
  • Ground water recharge or discharge, maintenance of underground water tables
  • Freshwater cycle
  • Staging ground for waterfowl, nurseries for fisheries and wildlife
  • Stabilization of local climate
  • Protecting bio-diversity
  • Recreation, tourism and cultural heritage
  • Providing livelihoods to local people.
Wetland Habitats Have Been Destroyed by:
  • Draining and land filling
  • Over-exploitation of fish resources
  • Pollution
  • Agricultural production and residues, industrial wastes reach wetlands and suffocate them
  • Other human activities like cultivation and to meet the demands of the increasing population.
Loss of Wetlands Result In:
  • Increased flooding
  • Decline in water quality
  • Degraded freshwater supply
  • Threatening the ecosystem, the flora and fauna
  • Clogging of the natural conduits in the marshland
  • The runoff in the low-lying marshland gets blocked.

Facts of WetLands:
  • More than ½ of the worlds remaining wetlands have been destroyed in the 20th century, especially in developing countries by the demands of industrialisation.
  • 1/3rd of Indian wetlands has already been wiped out or has been severely degraded.
  • Coastal wetlands provide nearly 12% of the total fish catch.
  • Nearly 1.1 billion people do not have access to safe freshwater, and nearly 1.7 billion people live in water scarce areas. (Source: The World Summit On Sustainable Development, 2002)
  • One of the most important wetlands in India is the Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur, Rajasthan, which is a manmade wetland. Various migratory birds visit this park almost every winter.
  • Chilka in Orissa is another important wetland and is the largest (1100 sq km) Brackish-water Lake in India.
  • The Government identifies 6,48,507 hectares as wetland in India.
Degraded Wetlands in India

Ladakh: It is home to a large va riety of flora and fauna. This land of the Indus River is considered a cold desert. The environment is ideal for the endangered black necked crane, Brahmini ducks, Kiangs and various medicinal flowers. 

These wetlands face dangers from the nomadic tribes, growing demand for Pashmina wool, over-grazing in the pasture lands, non biodegradable garbage thrown into the lakes, pollution, cars washed in water bodies, off track driving by tourists, all is harmful for the balance of the eco-system.

Wular lake (Jammu and Kashmir): This lake in is grossly encroached by farmers who convert vast catchment area into agricultural land. Besides, pollution from fertilisers and animal waste, hunting pressure on waterfowl and migratory birds and weed infestation has led to problems.

Tsomoriri lake (Jammu and Kashmir): This basin was connected by road that promoted tourism and economic activities, however, affecting the breeding of waterfowl population.

Harike wetland (Punjab): Surface and ground water are utilised on a large scale for irrigation. Untreated waste from catchment town is discharged into the lake. Deforestation is on the rise in lower Shivaliks, causing soil erosion and siltation.

Ropar lake (Punjab): Siltation from the adjoining barren and soft hills cause threat to the lake. Water quality degradation is caused by fertilizer and thermal power plants in the vicinity. Besides, interference with the resident and migratory birds, illegal fishing and poaching of wildlife puts these species in danger.

Point Calimere (Tamil Nadu): Illegal extraction of timber and non-timber produce has led to an ecological imbalance in this wildlife and bird sanctuary which already faces danger from industrial pollution and poaching.

Sambhar lake (Rajasthan): Grazing pressure from the 20-odd villages around the lake causes desertification.

East Calcutta Wetlands (West Bengal): Landuse changes over a period of time have led to conversion of some of the largest fish farms pisciculture to paddy cultivation in these wetlands. Waste water effluents of the industries are emptied into the city outfall channels, illegally, resulting in metal deposition in the canal sludge. Thus this waste water is incapable of ensuring the edible quality of fish and vegetables grown in the wetland.

Asan Barrage (Dehradun): This 3.2 wetland has been host to a number of migratory water fowls. Though covered under the national biodiversity strategy action plan and declared as ‘important bird areas (IBA)’, poachers kill the birds indiscriminately, also turning the wetlands into unfit marshy lands. This is because of the delay in declaring them as sanctuaries.

Existing Government Initiatives

Wetland Conservation Programme: The forest ministry took up this programme in collaboration with state governments to revive the dying lakes and ponds of the country. The ministry has identified 24 wetlands that require urgent conservation and management. Financial assistance has also been released to the state governments for supporting various activities for conserving water points.

National Lake Conservation Plan (NLCP): Urban wetlands subjected to deterioration due to urbanisation and other anthropogenic pressures, are incorporated in this plan, taking up 10 lakes initially.

The ministry has also asked the state governments to survey and demarcate the areas, take up activities of weed control, catchment area treatment, desiltation, conservation of biodiversity, pollution abatement, education awareness, community development etc.

State steering committees  are set up in various states with the chief secretary as the chairman, for carrying out these activities.

Wetlands Classification Scheme

Inland Wetlands
1. Natural
  • Lakes/Ponds
  • Ox-bow lakes/ Cut-off meanders
  • Waterlogged (Seasonal)
  • Playas
  • Swamp/marsh

2. Man-made
  • Reservoirs
  • Tanks
  • Waterlogged
  • Abandoned quarries
  • Ash pond/cooling pond

Coastal Wetlands
1. Natural
  • Estuary
  • Lagoon
  • Creek
  • Backwater (Kayal)
  • Bay
  • Tidal flat/Split/Bar
  • Coral reef
  • Rocky coast
  • Mangroove forest
  • Salt marsh/marsh vegetation
  • Other vegetation

2. Man-made
  • Salt pans
  • Aquaculture

sr. No. Name of Wetlands State/UT
1 Wullar Jammu and Kashmir
2 Tso Morari Jammu and Kashmir
3 Tisgul Tso Jammu and Kashmir
4 Renuka Himachal Pradesh
5 Pong Dam Himachal Pradesh
6 Chandratal Himachal Pradesh
7 Harike Punjab
8 Ropar Punjab
9 Kanjli Punjab
10 Chilka Orissa
11 Kabar Bihar
12 Sambhar Rajasthan
13 Kolleru Andhra Pradesh
14 Loktak Manipur
15 Ashtamudi Kerala
16 Sasthamkotta Kerala
17 Ujni Maharashtra
18 Nalsarovar Gujarat
19 Deepar Beel Assam
20 Rudrasagar tripura
21 Hokersar Jammu and Kashmir
22 Mansar-Surinsar Jammu and Kashmir
23 Pangong Tsar J and K (Ladakh)
24 East Calcutta West Bengal
25 Sunderbans West Bengal
26 Point Calimer Tamil Nadu
27 Kottuli Kerala
28 Palak Mizoram
29 Tamdil Mizoram
30 Barilla Bihar
31 Kusheshwar Asthan Bihar
32 Ban Ganga Jhilmil Tal Uttaranchal
33 Rewalsar Himachal Pradesh
34 Ahiron Beel W. Bengal
35Rasik BeelW. Bengal
36NawabganjUttar Pradesh
37SandiUttar Pradesh
38Lakh BahoshiUttar Pradesh
39SamaspurUttar Pradesh
43Gudavi Bird Sanctuary Karnataka
45Hidkal and GhataprabhaKarnataka
48Great Rann of KachhGujarat
49Thol Bird SanctuaryGujarat
50Khijadiya Bird SanctuaryGujarat
51Little Rann of KachhGujarat
52Pariej Gujarat
55BarnaMadhya Pradesh
56Yashwant SagarMadhya Pradesh
57Wetland of Ken RiverMadhya Pradesh
58National Chambal SanctuaryMadhya Pradesh
59GhatigaonMadhya Pradesh
60RatapaniMadhya Pradesh
61Denwa Tawa wetlandMadhya Pradesh
62Kanha Tiger Reserve Madhya Pradesh
63Pench Tiger ReserveMadhya Pradesh
64SakhyasagarMadhya Pradesh
65DihailaMadhya Pradesh
66RanjitsagarJammu and Kashmir
67GovindgarhMadhya Pradesh


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