THE INDIAN MANGROVE SAGA: A WORRYING CONCERN
"God gave us the Earth, to till and to keep in a balanced and respectful way.”-Pope Francis
The Ecological Sciences for Sustainable Development (UNESCO) defines mangroves as, “a rare and spectacular ecosystem that occupies the boundary between land and sea; consisting of trees or large shrubs, including ferns and palms, that normally grow in or adjacent to the intertidal zone. Mangroves have significantly adapted themselves to survive in this type of environment and grown in saline coastal sediment habitats.” According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation, mangroves are abundantly found in Asia (north-east India), Central America, West and Central Africa and Australia (northern portion). With India comprising world’s 3% of the mangrove expanse; the protection and preservation of the same becomes predominantly quintessential, more so in the light of the fatalistic climate change. Targeted policy action and a critical overview of the existing governance apparatus will undeniably aid in achieving the twin sustainable development goals i.e. - a focused climate action (Goal 13) and conservation of the marine water resources (Goal 14).
Mangroves are regarded as the most productive and complex ecosystem on the planet, that not only support myriad forms of lives but are also considered as one of the healthiest ecological milieu. Mangrove ecology assists in protecting the land from erosion and preventing the coastal dwellings as well as other wetland ecosystems from cyclones and tsunamis. However, the available data clearly highlights an inconsiderate attitude of humans towards mangrove conservation. While the cyclone and flood-resistant Indian Mangrove System (Sunderbans) has noticed 25% decline; the world mangrove cover has declined by 5 million ha from 1980. Mangrove loss is not only a threat to the contemporary climate action stratagem, but also an antithesis to our economic development goals.
Causes and Effects
Due to negative transformations taking place in the global climatic regime, mangroves are getting adversely impacted. India already faces a loss of rich mangrove vegetation due to annual flooding and cyclone occurrences. In addition to that, high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere lead to a drastic metamorphosis of the flora and fauna species found in the mangrove region. The plants which are biologically unable to survive in high temperatures virtually die out and are replaced by flora unsuitable to the specific area. This unwanted and unnatural replacement is the main cause of loss of biodiversity in the mangroves. Apart from this, the excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides by the agriculturists and the farmers residing nearby is a major stimulus for increased fluoride content in the sub-soil region. Intemperate and immoderate rise of chemical content in the land is an irreversible environmental change occurring in such a sensitive ecological framework.
Mangroves are predicted to be on the verge of facing a cataclysmic flowering and fruiting change due to high temperatures and absence of adequate temperature levels for the photosynthesis process. The uprooting of trees due to rise in sea levels is another catastrophic trend that the mangroves are facing. The uprooting of tress will negatively affect the flood-resistance capabilities of the mangroves and thus make the Bengal region more prone to cyclones and misplaced floods. Increased salinity content in the mangrove soil due to reduced rainfall can also lead to change in the diversity patterns of mangroves and the species inhabiting therein. It can be easily understood form the above mentioned facts and figures that even a slight threat to the mangroves can lead to an unimaginable impact on the flood-control strategies of the Indian government as well as the socio-economic lives of the people residing therein.
Mangroves in India are found in specific areas including Gujarat, Ratnagiri (Maharashtra), Goa, Sunderbans (Bengal), Krishna- Godavari Delta, Cauvery delta, Mahanadi delta and in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The legislative strategy to deal with mangrove conservation is already in place in India and is covered under the Indian Forest Act (1927) along with the Wildlife Protection Act (1972). The Environment Protection Act (1986) plays an irreplaceable role in managing the delicate mangrove ecosystems by declaring mangroves as a part of Coastal Regulation Zone, thereby prohibiting any industrial activity in or near the mangroves. This includes the ban on discharging any waste affluent in the water and setting up of any industrial unit near the ecosystem. Apart from that, mangroves were declared a Reserved Area under the aegis of the Indian Forest Act (1927).
However, there are a lot of shortcomings of the laws made and steps undertaken for mangrove preservation because of the lack of effective implementation of the same. The Coastal Regulation Zone so formed by the government must be regulated within the framework of the Environment Protection Act 1986 in a strict manner. The coastal zones are the most fragile ecosystems and must be governed with an attitude of concern. Environment impact assessment or EIA must always be done while considering projects in the mangrove arenas. This holds a lot of importance since, giving a go ahead to industrial setups in a sensitive area can lead to high degradation. For effective implementation of the same, EIA can be added specifically along with the provisions of mangrove governance in a separate Act or in the Environment Protection Act itself. Loopholes like this lead to ambiguities which further leads to lackadaisical obedience of the law. Apart from this, in situ payment of compensation for disrupting the mangrove ecosystem must be made a law. Special tribunals can be set for resolution of mangrove disputes, instead of carrying them all over to the NGTs that can prolong the matter unnecessarily. If not tribunals, then the respective State government must set up a different department that can deal with grievances of people living in the sensitive ecology and can, additionally look into the environment degradation happening at the place.
The Constitution of India mandates it as a fundamental duty to protect the environment along with preserving the flora and fauna that is entailed with it as well. Sans considerate and serious community engagement, this seems truly impossible. It is a generally recognized fact that the Bay of Bengal region of India is highly prone to cyclones as well as-in exceptional circumstances-to super cyclones and thus in such a critical condition, mangroves come to the rescue by mitigating the high momentum of water currents. Mangroves are a cherished home of marine wildlife and a support system for the fisher folk communities. Determinatively, it can be gauged that they are both ecologically and economically viable for a sustained human life on this planet.
Since most of the harm caused to the mangrove ecosystem is due to the human activity, proper sensitisation of communities and residents dwelling near the mangroves must be carried out for effective implementation of the conservation strategies. The excessive collection of timber and fuel from the mangrove forests leads to a degradation in the biodiversity levels, thus mandating a looming ruination. Incentives for sustainable management of mangroves must be provided along with research, restoration and rehabilitation of the already destroyed mangroves. This will not only help in an thorough analysis of the problem but also formulation of a unique policy action. Conclusively, it is only our environment that can assure our survival and nothing else.
Currently studying in University Institute of Legal Studies Punjab University Chandigarh. The author is enrolled in the 4th year of the B.A.LL.B. (hons) programme.