Journal for Environmental Law, Research and Advocacy

Volume 1  
2016
Editorial    
Articles
‘Majuli'- A Paradise On Earth   Mukundakam Sharma
A Critique of The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition Of Forest Rights Act) 2006   Vijender Kumar
Swatch Bharat and The Municipal Solid Waste Management Law   K. Vidyullatha Reddy
Environmental Issues in Aviation Industry: An Indian Perspective   Shaik Nazim Ahmed Shafi

Socio-Legal-Cultural View of Forest Environment In North East India A New Paradigm

  Topi Basar
Menace of Idol Immersion: A National Mortal Problem   Ambar Nath Sengupta

Environmentalism: Conception And Misconception

  Ahmed Ali and Yogesh Pratap Singh
A Study on Status of Bengal Florican in BTAD, Assam   Mridusmita Sarkar
Saving Deepor Beel, Assam's Lone Ramsar Site  

Priyanka Gogoi

The Impact of Armed Conflict on the Environment in North East India: Legal and Non-Legal Dimensions to the Internationalized Internal Conflict   Rudresh Mandal and Aditya Sarkar
Blood and Soil: How Conflict Threatens the Environment in North East India  

Ashirbad Nayak

Unified Suburbanization In Northeast India: Problems & Anxieties  

Atrayee De

Environment Protection Down The Lane: A Cursory Study Of The Indian Laws

 

Vaishali Arora
Suhas K Hosamani
Kajri Modhur Roy

Case Comment

T.N. Godavarman Thirumulpad v. Union of India & Ors.   Avaneesh Satyang & Rooha Khurshid

Book Review

‘Environmental Law' By Professor (Dr.) Paramjit S. Jaswal, Professor (Dr.) Nishtha Jaswal And Ms. Vibhuti Jaswal   Vidhi Singh

 

 

SAVING DEEPOR BEEL: ASSAM'S LONE RAMSAR SITE

Priyanka Gogoi[]

Introduction

The Brahmaputra is a major trans-boundary river covering a drainage area of 580,000 sq. km., 50.5 percent of which lie in China, 33.6 percent in India, 8.1 percent in Bangladesh and 7.8 percent in Bhutan.[1] The Brahmaputra Basin in Assam creates vast areas of wetland in the nature of marshes, swamps and beels.

Out of the many wetlands of Assam, Deepor Beel is one of the most significant. It is recognized as a bird sanctuary where besides residential bird species, many migratory birds congregate every year. However, in recent years, we have seen an encroachment on Deepor Beel's territory and consequent deterioration of the site; the issues are varied: construction of permanent structures, illegal earth cutting, urban waste dumping; all of these have changed the sensitive ecological balance at Deepor Beel. Such is the state of affairs that the wetland has shrunk in size over the past few decades. The locals have filed PILs, and environmental activists have raised concerns on various detrimental issues causing the shrinkage and deterioration of the Beel. However, the Government of Assam has been unable to provide a long-term viable solution towards restoration of the Beel, or at least reversing some of its damages.

This paper is an attempt to check the steps taken by the Government in this regard, the legal scenario as well as the solution advocated by the environmental activists, planning commissions and researchers and check for any viable long-term solutions.


Deepor Beel and its Significance

Wetlands provide important ecological services that contribute to watershed functions, most notably in pollutant removal, flood attenuation, groundwater recharge and discharge, shoreline protection, and wildlife habitat. The benefit of wetland ecological services generally increases as total wetland cover increases in a watershed.[2]

Internal river wetlands like Deepor Beel helps in reducing the impact of flash floods that Assam sees every monsoon. The wetlands of Assam play a key part in reducing the impact of floods.

Besides this, Deepor Beel is situated in the limits of the growing metropolitan city, Guwahati. For a long time, Deepor Beel has been serving as a storm water receptacle of the surrounding areas and the city of Guwahati.[3]

Deepor Beel supports a considerable number of bird species recorded in India. Examination of species richness of wetland bird species belonging to seventeen families and their comparison to mainland India indicate that Deepor Beel Ramsar site is a hotspot for these species when compared with the Indian scene.[4] It is estimated that the total number of avian species in Deepor Beel is around 232 species, some of them are local wetland birds and others migratory.

Deepor Beel is also a passage and water source for animals in the adjoining forest reserves. There are fourteen villages (1200 families) around Deepor Beel Wetland, most of which belong to low income groups living under the poverty line and depend directly or indirectly on the wetland's natural resources.[5]


Deepor Beel as Ramsar Site

The Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the Convention and wise use of wetlands and their resources. It is the only global environmental treaty that deals with a particular ecosystem and member countries of the Convention cover all geographic regions of the planet.[6]

The advantage of being a Contracting Party to the Ramsar Convention is that it elevates the importance of the Ramsar Site at the international level. The Convention encourages international cooperation and brings access to expert advice and latest information. It also provides an opportunity for learning the best global practices for wise use of wetlands and for getting international guidelines on various wetland conservation themes.[7]

The Ramsar Convention uses a broad definition for defining 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.[8]

Under the "three pillars" of the Convention, the Contracting Parties commit to:

  • work towards the wise use of all their wetlands;

  • designate suitable wetlands for the list of Wetlands of International Importance (the "Ramsar List") and ensure their effective management;

  • cooperate internationally on transboundary wetlands, shared wetland systems and shared species.[9]

The Government of India became a contracting/member party of the Ramsar Convention on 1 February 1982; with six wetlands covering 192,973 ha area as internationally important. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Government of India is the administrative authority for implementation of the Convention in India. The Ramsar Contracting Parties are committed to implement their objectives of the Convention mainly to designate suitable wetlands for the list of international importance (Ramsar List) and ensure their effective management; work towards the use of all wetlands through national land-use planning, appropriate policies, management actions and public education, and to cooperate internationally concerning transboundary wetlands, shared wetland systems, shared species and development projects that may affect wetlands.[10]

In November 2002, Deepor Beel was added to the list of wetlands of international importance by identifying it as a Ramsar wetland of international importance. Besides being a Ramsar site, Deepor Beel is also a wildlife sanctuary and an important bird area as identified by Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and Birdlife International since 2003.


Environmental Issues concerning Deepor Beel

Wetlands are eco-sensitive areas with diverse and productive eco-systems. However, equally true is the fact that most wetlands are degrading at a dangerous pace and are being converted to other uses. Most of the issues relate directly or indirectly to the rapid pace of urbanization; this holds especially true for Deepor Beel, which is located at the fringes of the growing metropolitan, Guwahati.

Several issues at Deepor Beel are of immediate concern:

Firstly, a 24-hectare municipal garbage dump yard lies at the east side of Deepor Beel. This is the main garbage site of Guwahati metropolitan. This has not only led to the aggravating daily situation of the villages surrounding the Beel's area but has also led to a direct impact on the eco-sensitivity of the region. It is to be noted that Guwahati does not have a sewage treatment plant yet; therefore the raw sewage is dumped at this site. Since, the garbage-dumping yard is abutting the margin of the Beel, there is every possibility of the solid and liquid wastes, leaching into the Beel during rainy season, further deteriorating the water quality[11], reports the Planning Commission of India on its Report of Deepor Beel in 2008.

Secondly, there is rapid construction surrounding the Beel's area. The Government has recognized 40 sq. kms as the total covered area of the Beel. Even in the 40 sq. kms designated by the Government as wetland, there have been constructions at a very rapid pace. Presently, out of the declared Ramsar site of 40 sq. km area, only 10 sq. km is covered by water.

The Planning Commission Report, 2008, also mentioned that encroachment of the Beel was evident from the dwelling units and cement structures inside the Beel. Some of these reclaimed areas have been granted permission by the State Government hence they technically cannot be called "encroachments".

Thirdly, at the south of the site are stone quarries wherein hill-cutting happens incessantly. Blasts at the quarries, dust from the earth cutting is changing the ecology of the Ramsar site.

Fourthly, next to the stone quarries is the Rani-Garbhanga Reserve Forest which is a crucial elephant corridor and rich in flora and fauna. Another major threat to the Deepor Beel ecosystem is the illegal hunting, trapping and killing of wild birds and animals in Deepor Beel and adjoining areas. Large numbers of birds are netted illegally during the winter months for consumption and as well as for sale in the local markets. It is illegal to kill and/or sale wild fauna under Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. However, enforcement is very slack or little.[12]

Moreover, the Indian Railways have constructed the Assam State's southern railroad along the southern boundary and through Deepor Beel in 1990. This has segregated the wetland to more than three subsystems. The most disastrous ramification of having the railroad on the southern side of the wetland is that it has fragmented the Deepor Wetland-Rani and Garbhanga Forest ecosystem into two. The railroad is hampering in wetland-animal (specifically Wild Asiatic Elephants) interactions. The Assam-Meghalaya's population of wild elephant has regularly visited the Deepor Beel Ramsar site to forage on aquatic vegetation during winter, pre-monsoon and monsoon season. But, this frequency has been reduced alarmingly due to the existing rail road. Moreover, the elephant and their calves cannot move easily and safely due to frequent running of passenger and goods train. Causality of two wild elephant has also occurred during 2006 due to train accident. The rail road is also expediting the land encroachment and wetland draining process as accessibility into the previously inaccessible areas has increased and the market value of land has gone up. Recently, new settlements of illegal immigrant population (are) also seen along the stretches of vacant lands between railroad and wetland.[13] All these have resulted in the shrinkage of Deepor Beel.

As recorded in the study conducted by Department of Water Resources Development and Management, Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee, the wetland area has decreased from 33.5% (1990) to 21.1% (1997) and then to 19.4% (2002). Overall the wetland ecosystem has reduced to 14.1% (405 ha) from 1990 to 2002.[14]

Briefly, the Planning Commission reported the following activities threatening Deepor Beel in their 2008 report:

  • Construction of railway line along the southern boundary of the Deepor Beel;

  • Industrial development within the periphery of the Beel;

  • Large scale encroachment within the Deepor Beel area;

  • Allotment of government vacant land to private parties by Government settlement department;

  • Brick kiln and soil cutting within the beel's ecosystem;

  • Hunting, trapping and killing of wild birds and mammals within and in the adjoining areas of Deepor beel;

  • Unplanned and destructive fishing practices without any control/regulation on mesh size, etc.[15]


Legal Provisions, a broad outline

Beginning with the Constitutional provisions in relation to environment, The Constitution (42nd Amendment) Act, 1976 amended the Constitution and inserted Article 48A which states that,

"The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country."

Art. 51-A (g) provides that, "it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures."

These Articles place a duty on the State and the citizen to protect the environment, which includes wetland preservation in its ambit. The Articles do not talk of conservation only, but includes development of the environment, i.e., steps/measures taken to protect and improve the environment.

In the Constitution, water is a matter included in Entry 17 of List-II i.e. State List. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the respective states to make rules and regulations in this behalf. However, owing to the trans-boundary nature of rivers (for example, interstate rivers) and the ramifications of water management amongst states (for example, construction of a dam which interferes with the flow of water of another state), it is necessary that water be considered a Union subject.

With regard to India being a member of Ramsar Convention, Article 51(c) of the Constitution of India states that the State shall endeavour to "foster respect for international law and treaty obligations in the dealings of organized peoples with one another".

It may be said that the distinction in Article 51(c) between ‘international law' and ‘treaty obligations' is that the term ‘international law' refers to international customary law. The acceptance of such an approach would mean that customary international law is not incorporated into Indian municipal law ipso facto. In league with this approach is the contention that Article 51(c) reduces the position of international law in India to a mere directive principle.[16]

India's obligations under an international treaty cannot be enforced, unless such obligations are made part of the law of this country by means of appropriate legislation.[17]

Article 253 states that, "Notwithstanding anything in the foregoing provisions of this Chapter, Parliament has power to make any law for the whole or any part of the territory of India for implementing any treaty, agreement or convention with any other country or countries or any decision made at any international conference, association or other body."

By virtue of Article 253, Parliament has exclusive power to make any law for implementing any treaty. Article 253 is in conformity with the object declared by Article 51(c). Treaty-making, implementing of treaties, etc., is a subject of Union legislation, under Entry 14 of the Union List. But it would have been difficult for the Union to implement its obligations under treaties or other international agreements if it were not able to legislate with respect to State subjects insofar as that may be necessary for the purpose of implementing the treaty obligations of India. Hence, article 253, by the words "notwithstanding anything in the foregoing provisions', empowers the Union Parliament to legislate on matters included in the State List for the said purpose. These words mean that the distribution of legislative powers between the Union and States shall not restrict the power of Parliament to make laws under article 253.[18]

It follows that since India is a member of the Ramsar Convention, wherein each Party is required to protect wetlands situated therein, the Indian Parliament can make rules regarding Wetlands and its conservation under Article 253 of the Constitution. Looked at in another perspective, since India has become a member of the Ramsar Convention and the Union of India is made up of States, therefore it follows that the States should make appropriate wetland policies. This would also be in tune with Constitutional provisions. The Government of India notified the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules 2010 under Section 25 read with Section 3 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. Recognizing the value of Wetlands and taking cognizance of the fact that there did not exist a formal system of Wetland Regulation, the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules 2010 was enacted which, inter alia, identified wetlands for conservation and through which financial assistance and technical assistance would be provided to the States by the Centre for the conservation of wetlands.

The Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010, are aimed at ensuring better conservation and preventing degradation of wetlands. It provides classification of wetlands for easier identification and management. Wetland Appraisal Committees, at the Centre and State levels were also set up under the Act, along with proper guidelines as to the implementation of the rules.

Besides these legal provisions, other legislations can also be used for the protection of wetlands in the country. Some of them are as follows:

  • The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972

  • The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974

  • The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Rules, 1975

  • The Territorial Water, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone and other Marine Zones Act, 1976

  • The Forest Conservation Act, 1980

  • The Maritime Zone of India (Regulation and fishing by foreign vessels) Act, 1980

  • The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981

  • The Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986

  • The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Cess (Amendment) Act, 1991

  • The Biological Diversity Act, 2002

  • The Indian Forest Act, 1927

  • The Indian Fisheries Act, 1857

  • The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006

Apart from the above-mentioned Acts, Policies and Rules, The National Environment Tribunal Act of 1995 and The National Environment Appellate Authority Act of 1997 have also been enacted.


Public Interest Litigation on the issue

Two PILs have been filed raising the separate issues of encroachment and garbage dumping in Deepor Beel. In 2006, the encroachment related Unnayan Samiti, stating that the construction on the lakebed by the state government as a part of Tourism development was damaging the site, filed PIL. The High Court, on 21 September 2006, issued a stay order against the construction.

On the issue of garbage dumping, the residents around the Deepor Beel area filed the second PIL in 2007. Since 2006, the Guwahati Municipal Corporation started dumping the city wastes near Deepor Beel.

A study conducted by the Institute of Advanced Study in Science and Technology under the Union Department of Science and Technology found that water percolating through solid wastes has polluted the nearby water bodies, which are connected to Deepor Beel. The institute had cautioned that contamination of Deepor Beel would harm the biodiversity of the lake. The study highlighted the fact that the dumping ground is situated close to human habitation, which could create health hazard for the residents as the area would become a breeding ground of cockroaches and mosquitoes and other pests, which can transmit diseases like Malaria, Yellow Fever, Dengue and Encephalitis.[19] A three-member committee was formed by the High Court. Guwahati Municipal Corporation was directed to spray pesticides in the neighbouring area of the lake to prevent health hazards.[20] In 2008, the State Government of Assam passed the Guwahati Water Bodies (Preservation and Conservation) Bill.


The Guwahati Water-Bodies (Preservation and Conservation) Act, 2008

The aim of the Act is to provide for "preservations, protection, conservation, regulation and maintenance of water bodies and to develop the water bodies into natural water reservoir and convert into eco-tourism recreation centre to suit the ecological balance within the jurisdiction of Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority and to protect the water bodies from the encroachers and damages." In other words, this Act would provide for the development and conservation of Deepor Beel, seeking a balance between the two, and would protect the lake from further encroachment and deterioration.

The Preamble of the Act states that "Whereas it is expedient to provide for preservation, protection, conservation, regulation and maintenance of waterbodies and to develop the waterbodies into natural water reservoir and convert into eco-tourism recreation centre to suit the ecological balance with the jurisdiction of Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority and to protect the water bodies from the encroachers and damages and the matters connected therewith or incidental thereto"

The wording of the Preamble, especially the phrases "To develop the waterb odies into natural water reservoir" and "to suit the ecological balance with the jurisdiction of Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority" marks the understanding that the State Government is keen to develop the lake and it understands the relation between the conservation of water bodies and flash floods that attack the city every year. The wordings of the Preamble cover the various issues that Deepor Beel, amongst other water bodies, are facing, including deterioration of water, garbage dumping and encroachment and seeks to conserve the water bodies in a balanced manner.

Section 4 of the Act further enlists the activities that would henceforth be illegal, and states that no person shall-

(i) undertake any activities including the filling up of water bodies which may cause damage or reduce the size of the water bodies;

(ii) construct or erect any structure in the water bodies;

(iii) dump or throw solid waste or garbage in the water bodies;

(iv) extend or reinforce of any building standing upon the water bodies;

(v) carry out any kind of business except fish curing, aqua culture, conservation measure and flood control measures, that too with the specific permission of the Competent Authority.


Deficiencies of the Act

While the Act is of a positive intent, there are certain glaring deficiencies in it. The biggest deficiency is that the Act does not mention any involvement/participation of the locals. There is also too much concentration of power in the hands of a few. The measures taken under the Act are one-sided. For example, the Act prohibits fishing in the lake; however, neither the Act nor the Government had taken any initiative to provide any alternate method of livelihood for the locals who have been sustaining their livelihood from fishing.

The Forest Department banned fishing in the wetland in January 2011 in an effort to preserve the site; however, it failed to recognize the plight of the locals whose livelihood depends on fishing. In fact, it is the local organizations that have tried to help the locals by teaching them alternate sources of livelihood.


Application to National Green Tribunal

The National Green Tribunal issued a directive on October 21, 2014 while admitting an application filed by RTI activist Rohit Choudhury, in which he alleged that unrestricted and unregulated "illegal" dumping of garbage and sewage on the wetland had a disastrous effect on the wetland's ecosystem. Mr. Choudhury also expressed concern over the future of elephant herds that come down to wetland from the nearby Rani reserved forest and other species of fauna in the Deepor Beel and pleaded with the tribunal to issue a directive to authorities to ensure norms are adhered to.[21]

In the wake of the application, on 21 October 2014, the Eastern Zone Bench of The National Green Tribunal had asked the State Government of Assam to submit a status report on the condition of the Ramsar Site. The specific answers demanded by the Tribunal were pertaining to:

i) Whether any municipal solid waste is being dumped to the said wet land?

ii) Whether any construction activities are going on in and around Deepor Beel Wet Land or is going to be made?

iii) Whether the respondent nos. 5 and 6, Guwahati Metropoliton Development Authority and the Guwahati Municipal Corporation respectively are following the rules regarding Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000 and Wet Land (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010 strictly with respect to Deepor Beel Wet Land situated in Assam[22]?

The Kolkata-Based Eastern Zone (EZ) Bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had imposed a fine of Rs 10,000 on each of the Chief Secretary and Principal Secretary-cum-Additional Chief Secretary (Revenue) of the State for their failure to file an affidavit on the issue of an alternative site for dumping of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) of Guwahati, in order to shift the present dumping site for saving the Deepor Beel, the lone Ramsar Site wetland of the State. In the same order, the EZ Bench of the NGT has also asked the State Chief Secretary and the Additional Secretary (Revenue) to file affidavits on the issue of alternative MSW dumping site within six weeks from May 28, 2015.[23]

The NGT Bench, on September 23, 2015, also asked the Chief Secretary of the State to take immediate steps for demarcation of the Deepor Beel Wetland Area for its proper protection in terms of the Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010. This order came in the wake of a prayer made by the Pollution Control Board, Assam (PCBA) that the Deepor Beel area is required to be demarcated immediately for its proper protection in terms of the Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rule, 2010.[24]


Recent measures taken by the Government

In March 2015, it was reported that the Kamrup (Metro) district administration has ordered Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) to shift its garbage disposal project from Deepor Beel.[25]

In May 2015, the Kamrup (Metro) district administration evicted illegal encroachers from around Deepor Beel to mitigate threats to the ecosystem of the water body.[26] The eviction drive is supposed to continue until all illegal encroachers are evicted from the area. However, the government's stand on persons who possess miyadi patta land (land approved by State Government) is unclear. There has been a case of the demolition of a portion of a wall of the National Public School; the wall was allegedly blocking the natural flow of water in the Ramsar site. The School authorities faced legal actions under several acts including the  Guwahati Water Bodies (Preservation and Conservation) Act, 2008, Assam Land Grabbing (Prohibition) Act, 2012, Assam Hill Land, Wildlife Protection Act, Disaster Management Act, 2005, and Ecological Sites (Protection and Management) Act, 2006, but the outcome of it is still yet to be decided.

On the garbage-dumping issue, in July 2015, it was reported that the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) will begin work on a solid waste management plant after the revenue and disaster management department allotted it a 20-bigha plot of land in Noonmati.[27]


Local Participation in preserving the Lake

Institute for Scientific and Technological Research (INSTER) started the Save Deepor Beel Campaign in 1989. Dr. Achintya Bezbaruah (Assam Engineering College), Dr. Prasanta Saikia, and Dr. Manideep Raj (both from Gauhati University) started the campaign for INSTER by writing to the Governments of Assam and India, and a mass media campaign followed. INSTER also moved the state high court to force the government to act. Intense lobbying with the authorities led the Government of India to ordering an environmental impact assessment for a railroad project. The State (Assam) Government instituted three different committees and established a Deepor Beel Management Authority. INSTER is presently working with Aaranyak; Early Birds; Deepor Beel Ramsar Site Conservation Community; Appropriate Technology Mission of Assam; and Assam Science, Technology, and Environment Council towards developing an integrated management plan for Deepor Beel.[28]

Various socio-economic programs have been successfully undertaken by various non-profit and governmental organizations in the fringe villages of Deepor Beel. These programs target in capacity building, drinking water supply, alternative fisheries, alternative livelihood, children's education, and public awareness for wetland conservation.[29]

"Aaranyak", a society for biodiversity conservation, has launched the following initiatives toward capacity building in the villages: (i) Evaluation of the socio-economic status of the fringe villages, (ii) Awareness drive among the villagers, (iii) Efforts to provide alternative source of livelihood, (iv) Workshops for the government officials, (v) Workshops on wetland values. Aaranyak has also organized bird watching program at Deepor for middle/high school and college students.[30]

"Early Birds" is a grass-root environmental organization working with the tribal community living in the southern fringe of the wetland. Early Birds is working with the people and educating them on sustainable ways of living.[31]

Deepor Beel Ramsar Site Conservation Community is an informal non-profit education and research group. This group has been continuously lobbying with the legislative and administrative wings of the Central and State Governments for the protection of the wetland. The group also organizes seminars and workshops dedicated to Deepor Beel.[32]

"Assam Science, Technology, and Environment Council" (ASTEC) is an autonomous body who works for the State (Assam) Government. With funding from the Central Government, ASTEC is working on socio-economic capacity building in the fringe villages of Deepor Beel and funding various educational and non-profit organizations on various research and development projects related to Deepor Beel. It undertook a massive de-silting and digging operation at Deepor Beel in an effort to protect the wetland from encroachment for civil construction. ASTEC is also working on steps to control weeds in the wetland, and for demonstration programs for alternative fishing management and training for income generating schemes for the local villagers.[33]

A Guwahati-based NGO, Eco Concept, has come forward to help the people living on the periphery of the Ramsar site Deepor beel (lake) by providing them an alternative source of income through mushroom cultivation.[34]

Further Measures

The National Environmental Policy identified the following six-fold Action Plan, which can be used as a guide while conserving Deepor Beel:

  1. Set up a legally enforceable regulatory mechanism for identified valuable wetlands to prevent their degradation and enhance their conservation. Develop a national inventory of such wetlands.

  2. Formulate conservation and prudent use strategies for each significant catalogued wetland, with participation of local communities, and other relevant stakeholders.

  3. Formulate and implement eco-tourism strategies for identified wetlands through multi-stakeholder partnerships involving public agencies, local communities and investors.

  4. Take explicit amount of impacts on wetlands of significant development projects during the environmental appraisal of such projects; in particular, the reduction in economic value of wetland environmental services should be explicitly factored into cost-benefit analysis.

  5. Consider particular unique wetlands as entities with ‘Incomparable Values', in developing strategies for their protection.

  6. Integrate wetland conservation, including conservation of village ponds and tanks, into sectoral development plans for poverty alleviation and livelihood improvement, and the link efforts for conservation and sustainable use of wetlands with the ongoing rural infrastructure development and employment generation programmes. Promote traditional techniques and practices for conserving village ponds.[35]

One of the recommendations of the Planning Commission in their 2008 report has been the setting up of a Development Authority exclusively for Deepor Beel. At present, there are overlapping functions carried out by various departments with no centralized authority. A Development Authority would provide better coordination of the various initiatives taken for restoring the Beel. Herein it is to be noted that in 1997, the State Government of Assam formed the Deepor Beel Management Authority to oversee conservation and development of Deepor Beel. However, due to the overlapping administrative machinery over the jurisdiction of Deepor Beel, the Authority remains non-functional till date. A clear demarcation of the jurisdiction of various authorities need to provided by enacting clear legislations on the same so that no overlapping functions are performed.

The Government has stated that setting up a revised Authority for Deepor Beel is at its anvil and the same would be set up soon. Such an Authority/Board for Deepor Beel should include representatives of the locals as well as experts in the field of environment, wetlands, geology etc. Wetlands can be conserved only when different social, legal and environmental problems are balanced against each other, and a common ground is reached amongst the various interests groups.

A stronger measure against encroachment and killing of wild animals and birds in the site should be taken by the Government invoking the relevant sections of the Guwahati Waterbodies (Prevention and Conservation) Act, 2008, Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules 2010, The Indian Forest Act 1927 and such other relevant laws. Measures have been taken by the Government to cease industrial construction and land cutting near the site, but illegalities occur time and again.

Talks are on between the locals and Government as to whether Deepor Beel should be declared as an ‘eco-sensitive' area. The locals fear that the tag may infringe their fundamental rights and they might not be able to construct houses of their legally acquired property, such property being in the eco-sensitive area. The Government has assured that legal residents would have all the rights and the tag of ‘eco-sensitive' would be helpful in curbing further encroachment and illegal constructions.

For illegal constructions and encroachment, monitoring of the site along with strict implementation of the provisions of law should be implemented.

There is no dearth of laws, which can help in regulating the environmental concerns of the Beel, but a proper implementation of the same is the need of the hour. Even the locals could be involved in such measure; helping the government to identify illegalities in the area. For all of these, a proper administrative mechanism is demanded, an authority which would protect the interests of not only the site but also the villages around it.

The Government had proposed a sewage treatment plant as well as the shifting of the garbage dump. These plans need to be implemented at the earliest.

At this point, it is also necessary that a sustainable balance is created in the restoration of the Beel as well as sustaining the livelihood of the fishermen. In this regard, aquaculture and sustainable methods of fishing could be employed; or alternate livelihood could be taught to the villages that depend on fishing.

Though the wetland of Deepor Beel has been stripped of its glory in the past decades, proper implementation and coordination of the various administrative, social and legal frameworks should be capable of restoring the Beel and prevent further degradation. The task is an uphill one, but with a proper policy and effective management, Assam's lone Ramsar site can still be restored.

**************

First Year, LLM student of ILS Pune, E-mail address- priyankagogoi16@gmail.com

1 Nayan Sharma, et al., "Remote Sensing Based Study on Channel Changes and Wetland Ecosystem Dynamics of

Brahmaputra River in India", http://www.brahmatwinn.uni-jena.de/brahmatwinnwiki/uploads/2/27/160_Remote_Sensing_Based_Study_on_Channel_Changes_and_Wetland_Ecosystem_Dynamics_of_Brahmaputra_River_in_India_.pdf (November 14, 2015).

2 Tiffany Wright, et al., "Direct and Indirect Impacts of Urbanization on Wetland Quality", p. i, http://pbadupws.nrc.gov/docs/ML0915/ML091520194.pdf (November 14, 2015).

3 Malabika Kakati Saikia, et al., "Management Perspectives for Avian Population Conservation and Enrichment in Deepor Beel Ramsar site, North-east India", p. 429, http://www.mutagens.co.in/jgb/vol.03/2/06.pdf (15 November, 2015).

4 Ibid

5 Ibid

6 Jamini Sarkar, "Ramsar Convention and India", http://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/101/10/1266.pdf (November 20, 2015).

7 Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Government of India, "Conservation of Wetlands in India: A Profile (Approach and Guidelines)", http://envfor.nic.in/divisions/csurv/WWD_Booklet.pdf (November 27, 2015)

9 Ibid

10 Supra note. 6

11 Planning Commission, Government of India, "Report on Visit to Deepor Beel in Assam – a wetland included under National Wetland Conservation and Management Programme of the Ministry of Environment & Forests. 13-14 August 2008", http://planningcommission.nic.in/reports/E_F/DeeporBeel.pdf (November 14, 2015)

12 Supra n. 3, p. 433

13 Ibid

14 Supra n. 1

15 Supra note. 11

16 Dr Brahm A. Agrawal, "Enforcement of International Legal Obligations in a National Jurisdiction", http://brahmavtar.com/enforcement-of-international-legal-obligations-in-a-national-jurisdiction.doc (23 November 2015)

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid

19 Centre for Science and Environment, "Cases on Protection of Lakes: Deepar Beel", http://www.cseindia.org/node/2560#chr (November 24, 2015)

20 Ibid

21 Sushanta Talukdar, "NGT notice to Assam on garbage dumping on wetland", THE HINDU, Friday, 24 October, 2014, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/ngt-notice-to-assam-on-garbage-dumping-on-wetland/article6529069.ece (November 15, 2015)

22 Rohit Choudhury v. Union of India & Ors., Original Application No. 19/2014/EZ,

http://www.greentribunal.gov.in/Writereaddata/Downloads/21-10-2014-corrected-order.pdf (20 November 2015)

23 Staff Reporter, "NGT slaps penalty on top State bureaucrats", THE ASSAM TRIBUNE, Tuesday, 02 June 2015, http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/detailsnew.asp?id=jun0215/at052 (November 23, 2015)

24 Staff Reporter, "NGT orders demarcation of Deepor Beel", THE ASSAM TRIBUNE, Saturday, 26 September 2015, http://www.assamtribune.com/sep2615/at055.txt (November 23, 2015)

25 TNN, "GMC to shift Deepor Beel dumping site", THE TIMES OF INDIA, , Tuesday, 24 March 2015, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/guwahati/GMC-to-shift-Deepor-Beel-dumping-site/articleshow/46667626.cms (November 25, 2015)

26 Abdul Gani, "Dist banks on eviction drive to restore Deepor Beel glory", THE TIMES OF INDIA, Wednesday, 01 April 2015, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/guwahati/Dist-banks-on-eviction-drive-to-restore-Deepor-Beel-glory/articleshow/46767779.cms (November 23, 2015)

27 Abdul Gani, "GMC to begin work on waste mgmt plant", THE TIMES OF INDIA, Friday, 24 July 2015, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/guwahati/GMC-to-begin-work-on-waste-mgmt-plant/articleshow/48192858.cms (November 23, 2015)

28 North Dakota State University, "Save Deepor Beel Campaign", https://www.ndsu.edu/pubweb/~bezbarua/em/Documents/Global%20Response%20Request%20Letter.pdf (November 23, 2015)

29 Supra note. 3, p. 434

30 Supra note. 28

31 Ibid

32 Ibid

33 Ibid

34 TNN, "Mushroom cultivation to stop fishing in Deepor beel", THE TIMES OF INDIA, Saturday, 07 January 2012, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/guwahati/Mushroom-cultivation-to-stop-fishing-in-Deepor-beel/articleshow/11396144.cms (22 November 2015)

35 Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Government of India, "Conservation of Wetlands in India: A Profile (Approach and Guidelines)", 2 February 2007, http://envfor.nic.in/divisions/csurv/WWD_Booklet.pdf (27 November 2015)