Blaring music, booming crackers, heaps and heaps of plastic and leftover offerings, the Okhla Bird Sanctuary, an eco-sensitive zone, was an invaded territory early Thursday as hundreds of devotees crowded the lake-side to perform Chhath rituals.
For the last four days, people have been crowding the lake, which is central to the 400-hectare sanctuary, to take a dip and offer prayers to the Sun God, scaring away the birds.
Reckless human behaviour during the annual Chhath Puja that coincides with the migratory bird season is forcing several species to pick a safer habitat, say environmentalists.
“The intrusion on Chhath days is taking a toll on the sanctuary. Devotees not only pollute the water bodies but also play loud music and burst crackers. Frightened birds immediately flee the place,” said TK Roy, a conservationist and ecologist."The interference can permanently affect the habitat of these birds and spoil the rich biodiversity of the sanctuary."
The lake created by damming the Yamuna is as a major bird habitat, home to some 330 species. Migratory birds, too, flock the sanctuary situated on the Delhi-Noida border.
The Northern shoveler, great flamingo, great white pelican, common coot, black headed gull, graylag goose and the Eurasian wigeon are some of the birds that fly in from Siberia and Central Asia to escape the winter. Last year, the number of migratory bird species dropped to 28 from 38 in 2012, according to an international wildlife body.
“We try to stop as many people as possible. Some go back, but there are several who just won’t listen. We can’t fight them physically,” said an official on condition of anonymity.
The lake, in fact the sanctuary, is already battling pollution, encroachment and lack of water.
Many of the devotees even stay overnight. The administration and forest department had failed to keep the crowd away, Roy said.
Forest officials expressed their helplessness. “The devotees who come to the sanctuary have been coming here for several generations. It is not easy to stop such a huge crowd,” forest ranger of the sanctuary IC Singh said. “We request them to keep it down.”