At first glance, if you overlook the dry, parched land, the area looks like a graveyard for fish and animals. Dead fish, several Blue Bull (Neelgai) bodies in different stages of decomposition can be seen here.
In the middle of it all, there’s two puddles of water. Each measuring about 20-by-20 ft, these are teeming with hundreds of fish packed together. Fighting for space and air as they jostle in the three-inch deep muddy and black waters, these fish too shall die soon as the lake continues to dry.
As a grim reminder of the future, the bodies of two African Black fish, with their rotten yellow scales and broken bones, lie beside each other on the parched, cracked earth. Barely six feet away, the grey carrion of a Blue Bull (Neelgai), with its torso missing but tiny horn and moldy skin intact, engages the attention of a solitary crow.
This is what is left of the lake at the Sultanpur National Park.
The Sultanpur jheel (lake)— the lifeline of Gurgaon’s Centrally-protected Sultanpur National Park & Bird Sanctuary’s avian and aquatic residents including around 250 species of resident and migratory birds and antelopes such as blue bulls and black bucks—is spread over nearly 90 per cent of the Park’s 359 acres.
But what’s left today is the dry bed of the lake that is strewn with fish bones and Neelgai carrion. The only life-forms visible across its vast expanse are the tiny baby frogs, which jump from one dry crack in the lake’s bed to another, and stray cattle from neighbouring villages whose entry is otherwise restricted in the facility.
Under a baking sun, the cool and serenity the lake had earlier provided to visitors and bird-watchers inside the Park is absent. Missing, too, are the majestic Asian Openbill Storks, with their white feathers marked with streaks of blue, and the elegant Great Egret in their silvery white.
The lake is dry, said a senior Park official who is not authorized to talk, since it did not receive its share of water from the Western Yamuna Canal since “February this year.” Since 2000, the canal has been the lake’s biggest provider of water, along with the monsoon.
“The canal, owned by the Haryana government’s Irrigation department, could not supply water to the lake after February this year. Water is being diverted to farmers for irrigation purposes and that is their first priority,” he said.
However, the Park’s officials are not losing any sleep over the certain death the fish in the puddles face. “They might all die in the next 48 hours but we are not worried since they are all African Black fish. Nearly 30 kg in weight, they are huge and have devoured the seedlings we had deposited in the lake... they cannot be eaten by the birds and we do not want them here,” said the official.
When asked, Haryana's Principal Chief Conservator of Forest Dr. Parvez Ahmed, under whose jurisdiction the Park lies, said, “What’s the problem? The Park’s lake is dry because the Western Yamuna canal does not provide it water from March to August and there is no rain yet. It’s dryness gives us a good opportunity to do away with the African Black fish that we definitely don’t want, and cleanse the lake by desilting its bed.”
He added, “It is a bird sanctuary and not a fish sanctuary. We want only such fish that the birds want, not the African fish that are too large to be eaten by them.”
Environmentalist Anand Arya, who wrote to the central Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh about the lake’s drying up, said, “The authorities have failed in their basic and primary duty to arrange adequate quantity of water for the Park. They have also adopted a cruel method to deal with the so-called unwanted fish, the African Black fish.”