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WETLAND
The Ecosystem Defined
Wetlands are defined as ‘lands transitional between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems where the water table is usually at or near the surface or the land is covered by shallow water’. [2] They thus comprise of diverse and heterogeneous assemblage of habitats, ranging from rivers and the flood plains, lakes, estuaries, mangroves, coral reefs and even man-made reservoirs. [3] Aptly described as ‘kidneys of the landscape’ by Mitsch and Gosselink (1986), wetlands are greatly valued on a global scale due to their immense contribution in sustaining a healthy environment and its biodiversity. [2]

Wetlands in India
The diverse climatic and topographic conditions in India supported by heavy rainfall have resulted in a variety of natural wetland systems, that range from high altitude cold desert wetlands in the Himalayas to hot and humid wetlands in the coastal zones including lagoons, estuaries and mangrove swamps; followed by saline and temporary wetlands of the arid and semi-arid regions, as well as coral reefs and marine wetlands. Besides, several man-made wetlands in the form of reservoirs, shallow ponds and tanks exist throughout the country, serving the functions of irrigation, water supply, flood control and fisheries. [6] All these ecosystems support a multitude of flora and fauna, with the freshwater wetlands alone documented to support about 20 percent of the country’s biodiversity. [1]

Wetland values and qualities are overlooked for the past few decades by anthropogenic interference [5], primarily through increased development in industrial, commercial, agricultural and residential sectors. Large scale changes in land-use/land cover thus threatens the spatial extent and function of wetlands throughout the Nation and elsewhere. Their fast pace of disappearance from the landscape as easily targeted by anthropogenic exploitations disturb the overall cultural, economic and ecological integrity of the environment. [6] Wetland loss in India can be categorized into acute or immediate loss (like agricultural conversion, direct deforestation in wetlands, hydrologic alteration and inundation by damned reservoirs) and chronic or gradual loss (like alteration of upper watersheds, degradation of water quality, ground water depletion, introduced species and extinction of native biota). [6]

Of the numerous biologically and economically important wetlands that exist in present India, a few coming under the Protected Area Network are protected. Most others have no legal status. Wetland conservation in India is indirectly influenced by several policies and legislative measures [5] like The Indian Fisheries Act, 1857; The Indian Forest Act, 1927; Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972; Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1977; Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986; Coastal Zone Regulation Notification, 1991; etc. [6] However, a legislation specially meant for these ecosystems is lacking. Although not delineated under any specific administrative jurisdiction, wetland management in India is under the primary responsibility of MoEF. [6] Giving high priority to the conservation and management of wetlands, MoEF formulated guidelines for preparation of management action plans for identified mangroves, coral reefs, wetlands, lakes and rivers in India. Such plans are supported in turn by Government of India under Centrally Sponsored Schemes on Wetlands and Mangroves. [4]

Categories
Wetlands being highly dynamic (in terms of their hydrological profile) with overlapping boundaries that are hard to define precisely, a proper way of classifying them becomes difficult. Marine Protected Areas (MPA) in India mainly include National Parks and Sanctuaries (protected under WPA) and even some Biosphere Reserves, all of which are located in some marine environments; however, no specific provision or mention of MPAs have been found under any legislation. [7] MoEF declared 41 rivers under National River Conservation Plan (NRCP), 61 lakes under National lake Conservation Plan (NLCP), 94 wetlands under National Wetland Conservation and Management Programme (NWCMP), 40 Mangroves and 4 Coral Reef areas under Conservation and Management of Mangroves and Coral Reefs. [3][4] India as one of the megadiversity countries of the world is also a signatory to the International Programmes like Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (26 wetlands declared as Ramsar sites or Wetlands of International Significance) [4] and the Convention of Biological Diversity [4][6] for wise use of wetlands, both natural and man-made.

Narine protected Areas   Sangroves & Coral Reefs
Civers under 'NRCP'   Cetlands under 'NWCMP'
akes under 'NLCP'   amsar Sites
References
1. Deepa, R. S. and T. V. Ramachandra. 1999. Impact of Urbanisation in the Interconnectivity of Wetlands. Paper presented at the National Symposium on Remote Sensing Applications for Natural Resources: Retrospective and Perspective (XIX-XXI 1999). Indian Society of Remote Sensing, Bangalore.  
2. Mitsch, W. I. and I. G. Gosselink. 1986. Wetlands. Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York.
3. MoEF. 2007. Conservation of Wetlands in India: A Profile (Approach and Guidelines). Conservation Division – I. Ministry of Environment and Forest, GOI, New Delhi.
4. MoEF. 2012-13. Annual Report 2012-2013. Ministry of Environment and Forest, GOI, New Delhi.
5. Parikh, J. and K. Parikh. 1999. Sustainable Wetland. Environmental Governance – 2, Indira Gandhi Institute of Developmental Research, Mumbai.
6. Prasad., S. N., T. V. Ramachandra, N. Ahalya, T. Sengupta, A. Kumar, A. K. Tiwari, V. S. Vijayan and L. Vijayan. 2002. Conservation of wetlands of India – A Review. International Society for Tropical Ecology. 43 (1): 173-186.
7. Rajagopalan, R. 2008. Samudra Monograph:  Marine Protected Areas in India. International Collective In Support of Fishworkers. Chennai, India.