India has recently added 5 more Ramsar sites or wetlands of international importance and thus the count has reached 54. The sites which have been included are Karikili Bird Sanctuary, Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve Forest, Pichavaram Mangrove Forest in Tamil Nadu, Sakhya Sagar in Madhya Pradesh, and Pala Wetlands in Mizoram. India’s Ramsar wetlands cover an area of 11,000 square kilometers which covers 10% of the total wetland area in the country. No other South Asian country has as many sites as India has, though this has much to do with India’s geographical breadth and tropical diversity. UK (145) and Mexico (142) smaller countries than India have the most Ramsar sites. Bolivia covers the largest area with wetlands which are 1,48,000 square kilometers under convention protection. Being designated as Ramsar sites doesn’t invite international funds but the State and the Centre have the responsibility to make ensure that these areas are free from any kind of encroachments. By getting the label of the Ramsar site, the tourism and international importance of the land increased. Until 1981, there were only 41 Ramsar sites which rose by adding 13 more sites during the past decade.
Wetlands according to Environment Ministry are “an area of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salty, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide doesn’t exceed 6 meters, but doesn’t include river channels, paddy fields, human-made water bodies/ tanks especially constructed for drinking water purposes and structures specifically constructed for aquaculture, salt production, recreation and irrigation purposes.
To be a Ramsar site, it must meet at least one of the nine criteria as defined by the Ramsar Convention of 1961 such as supporting vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered species or threatened ecological communities or if it regularly supports 20,000 or more water birds or is an important source of food for fishes, spawning ground, nursery and/or migration path on which fish stocks are dependent upon.
The National Wetland Inventory & Assessment compiled by the ISRD estimates India’s wetlands to span around 1,52,600 square kilometers.