Wetland Conservation

India’s policies for ‘Urban Lakes’


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Urban lakes in India

Mains level: Wetland conservation in India


  • Historically, cities were built along waterways or lakes.
  • Over time, human settlements near water bodies and lakes have transformed the natural environment into the towns and cities we see today.
  • Urban lakes are an important part of city ecosystems as they play a major role in providing environmental, social and economic services.

Famous Urban Lakes in India

Carambolim (Goa), Chilika (Odisha), Dal (Jammu and Kashmir), Deepor Beel (Assam), Khabartal (Bihar), Kolleru (Andhra Pradesh), Loktak (Manipur), Naini (Uttrakhand), Nalsarovar (Gujarat), and Vembanad (Kerala)

Threats to these Lakes

These lake ecosystems are presently endangered due to anthropogenic disturbances caused by Urbanisation as they have been heavily degraded due to pollution from disposal of untreated local sewage or due to encroachment, resulting in shrunken lakes.

Why conserve them?

  • Lakes in urban areas provide us with prime opportunities for recreation, tourism and domestic purposes.
  • They hold historical and traditional values and at places are a source of water supply for a municipality.
  • Appropriate lake function can ease the impact of floods and droughts by storing large amounts of water and releasing it during shortages.
  • Lakes also help in replenishing groundwater level as they are essential receptors for groundwater recharge, positively influencing water quality of downstream watercourses and preserving the biodiversity and habitat of the surrounding area.
  • Lakes in urban areas are also used as a source of water for industries, irrigation and agriculture.

Defining Urban Lakes

  • There is no specific definition for ‘urban lakes’ in India.
  • According to the National Lake Conservation Plan (NLCP), a water body having a minimum depth of three metres, spread over more than 10 hectares, and having no or very little aquatic vegetation, is considered as a lake.

The definition provided by NLCP is based on broad hydrological and morphometry criteria of a lake:

  • The apparent definition of urban lakes seems to those located entirely within city limits (census town) and directly surrounded by urban developments, with some recreation facilities limited to the shoreline area (parks, playgrounds).


  • The lakes which are predominantly affected by urban human populations and their drainage basin is dominated by urbanisation, rather than geology, soils or agriculture. Such lakes are situated only partially within city limits, or attached but not necessarily surrounded, entirely by city development.

Issues with the definition

  • One of the obstacles for effective protection of these interlinked lakes in cities is the lack of a clear definition of an ‘urban lake’ in the Indian context.
  • The definition provided under the guideline of NLCP acknowledges only broad hydrological criteria to define a water body as a lake.
  • This definition ignores the fact that the water depth and spread keep changing every year, depending on various environmental factors.
  • In fact, there are very few urban lakes that fit into this definition since most of them occupy a small area (<10 ha), are seasonal and shallow.

Various policy measures

Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act in 1974

  • Planning interventions for water bodies started as early as 1927.
  • In the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act in 1974, directions were given to control the flow of sewage and industrial effluents into water bodies.

Ramsar Convention

  • The need for lake conservation was felt when India became a signatory to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, 1982.
  • The Convention called for the conservation and wise use of wetlands (including water bodies).
  • Twenty-six Ramsar sites, covering an area of 689,000 ha, were identified in India.

National Wetland Conservation Programme

  • The Indian government operationalised the Programme in closed collaboration with concerned state governments during 1985-86 under the MoEFCC notification.
  • Recognising the importance of lakes, the Ministry launched NLCP, a centrally sponsored scheme exclusively aimed at restoring the water quality and ecology of lakes in different parts of the country.
  • Under the programme, 115 wetlands were identified, which required urgent conservation and management initiatives.
  • The selection of lakes was on hydrological (Lake size over 10 acres or 3 acres if of religious and cultural importance and lake depth more than three metres), scientific and administrative criteria.
  • The scheme was approved by the Union government during the Ninth Plan (June 2001) as 100 per cent central grant.
  • From 100 per cent central funding, the costs are now shared according to a ratio of 70:30 between the Union and the concerned state government.

Repair, Renovation and Restoration of Waterbodies’ Scheme

  • In continuation with the NLCP, the Centre had launched this Scheme in 2005,
  • The objectives of the scheme were comprehensive improvement and restoration of traditional waterbodies, including increasing tank storage capacity, ground water recharge, etc.

National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Eco-systems (NPCA)

  • Later, in 2016, the National Lake Conservation Plan was merged with National Wetlands Conservation Programme to form NPCA.
  • The principal objectives of NPCA are holistic conservation and the restoration of lakes and wetlands through an integrated and multidisciplinary approach with a common regulatory framework.
  • All lakes that were a part of NLCP, were brought under this scheme, and are being restored till date.

Why Urban Lakes still needs more attention?

  • Even after 26 years of pollution abatement works, only ten per cent of waste water generated in the country is treated.
  • The rest collects as cess pools or is discharged into the 14 major, 55 minor and several hundred other rivers.
  • It is quite clear that the overall status of quality of water in rivers, lakes and its links to groundwater has not been adequately addressed.
  • Out of the 43 Indian guidelines passed by the central and state government, 41 per cent of those talk about conservation and restoration of waterbodies but only 10 per cent exactly describe the conservative measure.
  • Only 22 per cent of the guidelines are on subjects related to policies to be adopted by state government, urban local bodies etc.
  • This clearly identifies the missing links and marks the future prospects that India should adopt for the preparation of better and sustainable lake management plans.

Need for a comprehensive Lake Management Plan

  • ‘Lake management planning’ is an approach for different stakeholders to come together with a common interest in improving and protecting their lake.
  • Focusing on planning process rather than quick-fix solutions makes lake rejuvenation a manageable process.
  • Moreover, it guides how time and resources are utilised, keeping future sustainability of the lake in account.  It includes:
  1. Encourages partnerships between concerned citizens, special interest groups, government body and water resources management practitioners
  2. Identifies the concerns regarding the catchment/watershed of the lake
  3. Sets realistic goals, objectives, and (short, medium and long-term) actions, and identifies needed funds and personnel.


  • Under the Jal Shakti mission and AMRUT, the revival /rejuvenation of water bodies is in piecemeal approach, with short-term measures like beautification, enhancing recreational activities, addressing immediate solid waste dumping into waterbody etc.
  • Although cities have initiated to work towards water bodies’ rejuvenation, the long-term approach is still missing.

Way Forward

  • Since a lake is a reflection of its catchment area, it is essential to first understand the significant changes or trends concerning the primary land uses within the catchment area / watershed draining into the lake.
  • There is no approach which defines the planning process for preparation of short, medium and long-term action plans for lake rejuvenation, considering its watershed area.
  • It is essential to have a document with clear understanding of the lake’s watershed area, with specific goals, objectives, producing time-bound action plans.
  • Conservation of Lakes and wetlands through an integrated and multidisciplinary approach with a common regulatory framework should be carried out.

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