The first draft Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2009, if applied in its present form, will exclude local communities from any say in the way the Vembanad wetland is managed or conserved.
The Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2009 is the first MoEF attempt to legally define wetlands, or include special enactments for their conservation. When the Ministry of Environment and Forests first shared the draft Regulatory Framework for Wetlands Conservation for public comments in 2008, ATREE’s wetland conservation team carried out a detailed analysis and recommended provisions for decentralized governance mechanisms of natural resources.
CERC’s line of argument is that the blanket official control that the draft regulatory framework suggests – through central, state and district level wetland regulatory authorities, just serves to exclude the local stakeholders from decision making; it does not actually advance constructive suggestions for conserving the wetlands. It points out that though the government had invited public comments on the draft Regulatory framework for wetland conservation released in 2008 as well, the 2009 follow up is not significantly different from the previous version and unfortunately, continues to propose the unjustifiable state control and intervention over people’s livelihoods. Given that all major livelihood activities of the region rely on the wetlands, this would be a singularly undemocratic framework.
In the last three years, ATREE’s CERC has interacted with and catalysed action on the management and conservation of the Vemaband backwaters with various sections of stakeholders – state Water Resources, Fisheries, Agriculture, Revenue, Tourism, and Transport departments; communities pursuing traditional livelihoods (including paddy farmers and other agricultural workers) and which coexist with modern industries; the increasingly powerful tourist industry; and civil society and NGOs actively involved in resource management and conservation. In this year, the team has organized a workshop on the draft Kerala Inland Fishery Bill (2010) with stakeholder groups, introduced fish sanctuaries to various Panchayats, and conducted the year’s Vemaband fish census, among other ongoing conservation education and action initiatives.