One of Rajasthan's best known bird sanctuaries is desperate for water - because birds from far away lands are giving it a miss on account of its parched conditions.
Officials at the Keoladeo National Park at Bharatpur, 175 km from state capital Jaipur, are frantically studying proposals put up by a government task force to combat water scarcity following poor monsoons.
The park, also known as the Ghana bird sanctuary, has an annual water requirement of 540 mcft (million cubic feet). The availability now is far less.
Over 350 species of birds, including open bills, spoonbills, egrets, cormorants, white ibis, harriers, fishing eagles kingfisher and local and Siberian cranes, which were commonly sighted earlier, have turned scarce due to lack of water.
The Bharatpur sanctuary, which is also a popular tourist destination, is spread across 28.73 sq km and includes lake and wetlands artificially created by the local maharaja in the 19th century.
By building small dykes and dams and diverting water from an irrigation canal, he converted this low-lying area into a fine wild fowl shooting preserve. In a few years, the new wetland surrounded by marginal forests was able to support thousands of water birds.
A task force, set up by the Rajasthan government in 2006 to resolve the crisis, has recommended that water be brought to the park from a drain at a cost of Rs.300 million or from a canal at Rs.4 million.
"The proposal will be discussed. We really want to save the sanctuary," said L.N. Dave, Rajasthan's forest minister
Driven by dryness, the bird sanctuary wears a deserted look. Several incoming birds migrated to other, wetter places during their breeding season.
A large part of water bodies in the sanctuary have turned into dry land. The entire area, which has received little rainfall in the last couple of years, has moved into a crisis-like situation.
"The area had even failed to receive one-third of its average rainfall, which badly affected the arrival of birds. Most birds migrating here have diverted to other places," said a forest department official.
Several birds did land here but soon flew out.
Bharatpur district, on an average, receives 673 mm of rainfall. But during the last monsoon it got only 212 mm of rainfall.
Water from Panchana dam was proposed for the sanctuary but farmers' opposition scuttled the plan.
"We are seriously monitoring the situation and working hard for a solution. We have installed eight shallow bore wells and one deep bore well. These are sufficient for the mammals in the area but not for birds," park director Sunayan Sharma said.