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In the last decade, the conservation of our ecosystem has gained high importance. The last few years have seen a considerable jump on awareness of the conservation of marshlands. Marshlands or wetlands are areas which are transitional between terrestrial and aquatic systems. Here the water is usually at the surface. The land is covered by stagnant water that does not exceed 6 meters. They are considered important as they are home to various species of flora and fauna. Wetlands covers 6 %of the earth`s land surface. This includes marshes, mangroves fens, swamps, lagoons etc. They store water for a long period of time and help keep floods in check.
They also prevent coastal erosion. Despite the fact that these marshlands are important the reduction in the levels of these areas are very apparent .The government, in a census, has identified 648,507 hectares of wetlands in India and it has estimated that freshwater wetlands constitute up to roughly 20% of the biodiversity in India. Studies have proved alarming levels of marshland destruction in India. This level has been estimated by experts at up to 2-3% reduction per year.
Pallikaranai is locally known as Kazhiveli (a generic Tamil name for marshes and swamps). It is situated in Chennai and is one such important marshland which has been in the preview of the government and NGOs alike. This marshland is a 50 km wetland located in the South of Chennai. Pallikaranai Marsh has the most diverse natural habitats of the country with over 330 species of plants and animals.
According to a census taken by an NGO group Namma Pallikaranai, the heterogeneous ecosystem of the marshland supports about 337 species of flora and fauna. Of the faunal groups, birds, fishes and reptiles are the most prominent. Further it has been identified that Pallikaranai marsh is home to 115 species of birds, 10 species of mammals, 21 species of reptiles, 10 species of amphibians, 46 species of fishes, 9 species of molluscans, 5 species of crustaceans and 7 species of butterflies. About 114 species of plants are found in the wetland including 29 species of grass.
Pallikaranai is facing the problem of reduction of the marshland. The area of the Pallikaranai marshland has been reduced to a mere 600 hectares from the original 6,000 hectares. The government, however, has protected only 317 hectares Construction of buildings in the surrounding areas of the marsh has been one of the factors to this reduction of the levels of the marshlands. The marsh is also contaminated with millions of liters of untreated sewage. The main problem, however, is the dumping and burning of garbage. Over 250 acres of the marsh is covered by the city’s garbage as this is one of the major dumping grounds. The garbage is dumped in the marsh and later burned.
According to a survey conducted by the pollution control board, the levels of respirable suspended particulate matter (RSPM) is double than the permissible level of 100 micrograms per cubic meter. This could cause harmful effects to the residents near the marsh area. Burning the garbage also kills the different plants and animals in the marsh. There have been a significant number of birds and animals which were found dead due to the spreading of fires. “We have complained several times. But garbage is still being burnt in the marshes. The pollution when the garbage is being burnt is affecting us a lot”, says Uma .P, a resident of the area.
A project on ‘Inland Wetlands of India’ commissioned by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India had prioritized Pallikaranai Marsh as one of the most significant wetlands of the country. The government has taken various steps to preserve this marsh. The High Court of Madras has passed laws regarding the preservation of Pallikaranai marshland, which in its rulings have stated provisions to conserve the marsh The High Court has also stated that an alternative place must be decided by the corporation for a place to dump the corporation waste. Further, the High Court has prohibited burning of waste in the marshlands. The main proposal of the Tamil Nadu government notification, 320.17 hectares (790.82 acres) of Pallikaranai marshland as reserved forests and to evict occupants who are not authorized to be there from the reserved area has been implemented.
Some parts of the marsh have come under the forest department and have been recognized as a reserve by the government. This has come after a delay in providing the land since 2011. They have provided the 170 hectors to complete the restoration of the marsh. Restoration of these marshes has started. This move of the government has been welcomed by the residents of the area. “I hope no more garbage will be dumped and burned in the marsh as this has caused major pollution problems in this area. The government must ensure that such problems don’t occur in the future” Says Rashmi.G , a resident of Pallikarnai Experts have stated the need to establish a single coordination agency with all stakeholders like environmental activists, government officials and researchers to establish the restoration of this project.
The government, with the agenda of conserving the marsh has sanctioned a programme to take up a restoration project which is estimated to cost Rs.15.75 crore along with this a boost of R.s 5 crore has been provided to increase and restore the Pallikarnai marsh. The conservation plan according to an official report by the environment ministry states that the restoration plan includes the removal of weeds, formation of bunds, dredging water courses and forming a nature trail alongside the boundary of the marshland. This will take around 5 years for the government to complete its restoration plans for the Pallikaranai marsh.