The Keoladeo National Park is virtually on the verge of drying up as its two major sources of water have failed to replenish it, leaving it at the mercy of a weak monsoon, say experts.
The park, which was declared a world heritage site in 1985, gets water from the Panchana dam and the Goverdhan drain. The drain gets recharged by the Yamuna runoff, but has gone dry this season. The locals have blocked the water from the Panchana dam, located nearly 90 kilometres upstream from the park on the Gambhir river in Karauli district.
Experts say the park’s only hope now is the Chambal river, but even that supply is not sufficient and is expected to continue only till 2017. The park now requires 550 million cubic feet (MCFt) water for the maintenance of the wetland ecosystem. But it has been receiving less than 300 MCFt due to scant rain, leading to the drying up of a large section of the wetland flora.
The park authorities say the water from the Panchana dam was good for the park as it brings in fish which provides food for birds. But the local communities blocked the water in 2012, saying they needed it to irrigate their farms.
Earlier, the dam used to release over 400 MCFt water to the park every year from October to March. But now not a single drop comes from there, says Krishan Kumar Gupta, president of Keoladeo natural history society. Gupta says that the park is on the verge of drying up.
“Water from Panchana is a must for the park and the government has to find a way out for this. The central empowered committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court had also mentioned in its report that the dam water is necessary for the park but the report has not been considered seriously,” says Gupta.
The government spent over ` 65 crore on the Goverdhan drain project aimed to fetch 350 MCFt flood water from the Yamuna through 16.20 kilometre long underground pipeline during monsoons. The project supplied water in September 2013 for the first time and went non-functional after that in the absence of adequate recharge from the rainfed Yamuna. “Last year, only 3 MCFt water was received from the Goverdhan drain,” says park director Biju Joy.
A study ‘Bharatpur Wetland: Future Desert?’ conducted by three scientists and ecologists in 2010 had also stressed the water from the Panchana Dam to the park has progressively decreased. The report mentions that the total stoppage of water from the River Gambhir was likely to make the Bharatpur wetland drier and cause a negative impact on the flora and fauna there.
In the absence of sufficient water this year, the birds have still not started nesting, the activity which usually starts ahead of the monsoon, says a nature guide seeking anonymity.
Highlighting a decrease in the arrival of birds, Gupta recalls 381 pairs of Sarus crane were recorded in the year 1981 but now only 10 are sighted in the park. The World Heritage Committee of Unesco had asked the state government to arrange water for the park by 2011 or its ‘world heritage site’ status would be withdrawn. After the warning, the government sped up work on the Goverdhan drain project.
Earlier, in 2005 also the committee had warned of revoking the status if the park continued to dry up. Following the warning, the forest authorities had dug up a few bore-wells but the arrangement proved futile in draught-like conditions. Keoladeo was declared a Ramsar site in 1981. It was established as a national park in 1982, in 1985 it found its place on the world heritage site list. The park was once a private duck shooting preserve of the Bharatpur royal family.