While driving to work on 13th July 2016, I witnessed rapid changes to the remaining wetlands patches along the Old Mahabalipuram Road in Chennai. Studies show that due to rapid city expansion, Chennai’s wetlands have shrunk to alarming proportions.
At a national scale, one-third of the India’s wetlands are already wiped out or severely degraded because of encroachment. Wetlands that were once home to numerous species of flora and fauna have been replaced by concrete jungles virtually in the blink of an eye.
In an Order dated 31st January 2017, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has directed the Government of India to inform it of the specific steps it has taken to preserve the 26 Ramsar Site wetlands of India. It has further directed the Government of India to obtain ‘Brief Documents’ from the respective State Governments on all 2,01,503 wetlands above 2.5 Ha that have been mapped. Further orders from the Supreme Court are awaited.
Wetlands serve diverse functions, including recharging ground water, acting as repositories of flood waters, recycling nutrients, and water purification. They are also refuges for hundreds of thousands of resident and migratory waterfowl, as well as a source of livelihood for local communities.
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Despite all the things we know now about the vital ecosystem services provided by wetlands, they are still treated as wastelands and given away for development or used as dumping grounds.