In welcome news for nature lovers and area residents, the state forest and wildlife preservation department has given “in-principal approval” to a project for mega development of eco-tourism in hitherto neglected Harike Wildlife Sanctuary, Ferozepur, at a cost of R12.74 crore. The project will be funded through the Asian Development Bank and will be the maiden plan for the sanctuary's development since its inception.
The Harike Wildlife Sanctuary (HWS), 65 km from Ferozepur on Ferozepur-Amritsar road, is the most important sanctuary in the state. Located in the western corner of the state, it covers three districts of Amritsar, Ferozepur and Kapurthala. The wetland ecosystem of Harike lies on the confluence of the Beas and Sutlej and the main water body (reservoir) came into existence when a barrage was constructed across the confluence of the two rivers in 1952.
Recognising the importance of the wetland, the government, in 1976, declared it a “closed area” and in 1982, declared it a wildlife sanctuary for five years. The final notification of the wetland as a sanctuary, as per provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, came in 1999. It was declared a Ramsar site by the International Body of Wetlands under the UNDP in 1990 wherein a total area of 86 sq km was declared wildlife sanctuary. The National Committee on Wetlands, Mangroves and Coral Reefs of the union ministry of environment and forests, too, identified it as one of the wetlands for special conservation action and management.
Harike is a refuge for a large number of resident and migratory birds and wigeon, common teal, pintail, shoveller and brahminy ducks are commonly seen during the winters.
The lake is particularly famous for diving ducks such as crested pochard, common pochard and tufted ducks, which are present in large numbers. Bird species ranging from 200-350 have been reported from the wetland area in different studies carried out by scientists.
Of these, some 40 species were long-distance migrants, which pass through or stay for winters at Harike lake. Apart from avifauna, some seven species of turtle and 26 of fish, including river dolphins, have been recorded. The mammals found at Harike include smooth Indian otter, jungle cat, jackal, Indian wild boar and the common mongoose. Few months ago, a sub-adult dolphin besides other five were spotted at Karmuwala village in Harike, which proved that dolphin breeding is possible here.
In the recent years, besides regular migratory birds, rare species such as Jerdans Bibbler was spotted at Harike and nature experts from various prominent institutes of India had visited here and reported tremendous potential for eco-tourism.
When contacted, divisional forest officer (wildlife), Ferozepur, M Saudagar acknowledged that the nod has been given to mega development of the HWS by the state government and said it would take four years to complete the project.
Development of the HWS will be an educative venture for school- and college-going generation who will not only get a practical exposure of ecology but will also get sensitised towards conservation of nature. This activity will be made more attractive and recreational by establishing watch towers, animal watch cabin, interpretation centre, nature trail in the bank of rivers, eco rides, boating and water trail in river, all to be done in the mega development of the HWS, he pointed out.
Local youth and entreprenerurs along the border villages of the HWS would be encouraged to utilise eco-tourism as an employment and income-generating activity to get them involved for conservation of wildlife in and around the sanctuary, he added.
Refreshment places, swings, sports and island stay will be introduced in a phased and regulated manner, which may lead to economic uplift of the local community in this otherwise backward area, the DFO said.
The project would involve soil and moisture conservation work, rehabilitation of degraded and eroded patches on river banks and island, setting up of tourist information-cum-reception complex with parking area outside the sanctuary, water and nature trail, visitors' interpretation centre and eco-development training centre and watch towers and bird hideouts.
For better amenities to tourists, eco-friendly residential facilities like low-cost houses would be facilitated, he added.
Special emphasis would be laid on the participation of the community in conservation and management of eco-tourism spot by adopting participatory approach through creation of Eco-Development Committees (EDCs) comprising members from local communities.
The EDCs will help in management of eco-tourism and eco-development activities like creation of eco-development zone, village-level microplanning, fencing, cattle immunisation, protection of wildlife and sanctuary area from illegal activities like fishing and encroachment, tourism and hospitality-related activities, nature guiding and transport, sharing of resources and training and capacity building, the DFO said.
Development of the HWS into an eco-tourism spot will add to the tourist influx as being near to Golden Temple, Goindwal Sahib and Sabraon (all religious and historical places), it would add to the tourist value of the region, said Naresh Khanna, a nature lover.