India is fast losing its tag of being one of the finest places for bird watchers with data indicating a decline in migratory birds visiting around 94 major wetlands in the country.
The famous wetlands - Bharatpur national park in Rajasthan or Chilka Laka in Orissa or Kolleru wetland in Andhra Pradesh or Rann of Kachh in Gujarat - are losing their sheen and no more attracting foreign birds as they used do decades ago.
Its official confirmation came this week when environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan told Lok Sabha that there was a decline in migratory birds coming to India "Except Nordmann's Greenshan, all other species have been observed to be decline in Asia including India," the minister said.
India has 94 notified wetlands, which are also declared as sanctuaries, but many of them are in shambles in absence of conservation measures.
The government's own records show that many of these wetlands suffer from ecological degradation on account of over-exploitation and water contamination due to excessive use of pesticides in agriculture.
A recent study by Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore, using satellite imagery shows that major wetlands - for attracting migratory birds - such as Dal Lake, the Sunderban, Chilka, Kolleru, Esctuaries of Karnataka Coast, Cochin Backwaters are among the seriously threatened wetlands in the country.
And, its impact is showing on arrival of majestic migratory birds through Central Asian Flyway (CAF) in India. The latest Asian Bird Census, which the ministry quoted in Parliament, shows a dip of migratory birds. "The number of birds being spotted are falling at a fast pace," said an ecologist associated with the census.
Other bird watchers believe that Asian Bird Census is not credible as it relies on sighting of birds on one given day in a year. "One cannot spot all the birds visiting in just a few hours in one day of the year," said Fayaz Khudsar, a wildlife biologist with Delhi University.
Others like Ramki Sreenivasan of online portal Conservation India wondered how such a tall claim can be made without India having any official bird census.The same portal on November 1, 2012had reported massacre of thousands of migratory Amur Falcons in north-eastern Indian state of Nagaland for purpose of sale in local markets.
The ministry admitted that hunting was a reason for decline in population of migratory birds. Around 370 species of migratory birds have been reported from India in the recent past of which 175 species undertake long distance migration using the CAF area.
These birds include Siberian cranes, flamingoes, Egyptian vultures, white tailed eagles, spoonbill sandpiper and fishing eage.
Natarajan said select scientific institutions funded by the government and NGOs working for wetlands and migratory birds have been monitoring the status of these long distance migratory birds in India.