Lakes in Courts: Cases on Protection of Lakes

Every Indian city, worth its salt, was known by its water body. In fact, localities were named after this wealth. It made the city, because, people understood the connection between these structures built to harvest rain and their drinking water.

Structures -- tanks, lakes, step wells and the channels to convey rainwater –determined the city’s water manners. Today, these water bodies are a shame – encroached, full of sewage, garbage or just filled up and built over. The city forgot it needed water. It forgot its own lifeline. The government officials have only seen the lake as land and not as water. As a result the water body and its catchment has been encroached upon or taken away for housing and other buildings – by the poor and the rich alike.

India is a party in Ramsar Convention but only now a national law has come up to prevent the misuse of the wetlands. A study published by the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON), Coimbatore, says that between 1991-2001, India lost more than 40% of its wetlands,  with some districts recording losses of over 88%. SACON has documented some 700 wetlands in the country, not including the smaller ones, and recommended the inclusion of about 200 of these wetlands in the Ramsar Convention. Sadly, India has only 25 listed wetlands as part of the Ramsar convention, and even these are under rapid decay. The National Wetlands Conservation program, started in 1987, restricts itself solely to these 25 wetlands. The protection of wetlands are under different protection acts (like Wild life protection act, 1972, Environmental Protection Act, 1986, Indian Forest Act, 1927, Indian Fisheries Act 1897), yet none of them recognize wetlands as separate ecosystem. The National Water Policy mentions water bodies in the section on the revival of traditional water harvesting systems, but says little else.

In state after state, citizens and NGOs have filed legal cases for protection of lakes. Public interest litigations (PILs) have been filed for the protection of the water bodies in many cities. The courts have responded with dramatic verdicts, which provide the learnings for how these water-systems can be regenerated for the city’s future.

In spite of all the efforts of the civil society groups, working through judicial intervention, the movement to protect and revive lakes is facing an uphill battle. Recently Wetlands (Management and Conservation) Rules, 2010 was issued by Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF), for conservation and management of wetlands.

See lakes in courts