Environmentalists, bird lovers against ‘junky tourism’ in Sattal
- Mukul Sharma, forest range officer, Bhawali (under which Sattal falls), said the works proposed by the forest department haven’t been built yet.
Environmentalists, bird lovers and locals are opposing the proposed redevelopment of Sattal, a birder’s paradise, in Nainital district, stressing that more concretisation and infrastructure addition will disturb the birds frequenting the area and negatively impact its natural ecology.
Bird lovers from across India frequent Sattal for bird watching and clicking photographs of the Himalayan avian diversity. Under the proposed redevelopment of Sattal, authorities (Nainital Lake Development Authority and forest department) plan to build a children’s park, food plaza, interpretation centre, library, ticketing office, park, pathways and so on
Neerdiv Bankoti, a local, said they are opposing the redevelopment as Sattal is perhaps the last lake area in the district, also called the “Lake district of India”, which is still in pristine and unspoiled, and doesn’t have many concrete structures.
“These additions will lead to crowding and stop the birds from coming here. So, in a way, if we go ahead with the redevelopment of the lake area, it will defeat the very purpose for which Sattal is famous,” he said.
Aagnay Budhraja, who hails from Delhi and has been living in Sattal for four years, said he started an online petition on change.org against the proposed move. He said the area is home to over 500 bird and 525 butterfly species.
“Over 17,000 people have already signed the petition. When we came to know about these proposed works, we wrote to the divisional forest officer of Nainital and other authorities that instead of adding more structures in the area, the forests around the lake should be declared a conservation reserve,” he said.
Budhraja said a public interest litigation will be filed in the Uttarakhand high court next month. “We want the court to look into this ecologically sensitive matter,” he said.
Avian expert Sanjay Sondhi, also the co-author of “Updated Checklist and Bibliography of the Birds of Uttarakhand” said Sattal is likely the best bird watching site in the state. “There should be no junky tourism development there; it should be left unspoiled for birds,” he said.
AG Ansari, a Kumaon-based wildlife activist, said he is opposed to development around Sattal. “If concrete structures are added, there will be less green space around the lake and more people will be present in the area at a time, which will affect the movement of birds that are generally alert and shy towards crowds,” he said.
However, environmentalist Ajay Singh Rawat said that in 1993 he filed a petition in the Supreme Court regarding pollution in Nainital lake. “Subsequently, the SC gave directions that Nainital lake has become opaque and it should be cleaned immediately. After that ₹43 crore were released by the state government for Nainital and other lakes in the district,” he said.
Rawat said in 2013, the Uttarakhand high court ordered that the money saved from the ₹43 crore should be used for beautifying Sattal and stopping pollution.
“Under this project, now the shops are being shifted 40 feet back, a children’s park and food plaza is being set up. This will give a boost to tourism and the landscaping efforts will also check pollution in the area. The opposition seems to be engineered by some vested interests who have business interests in surrounding villages,” he said.
Pankaj Upadhyay, secretary, Nainital Lake Development Authority, said ₹6 crore will be spent on the Sattal lake redevelopment and beautification project. “We have plans to build a children’s park, a small park and a sitting area, develop pathways and undertake landscaping around the lake to beautify it. The contract for the project has been given a few days back and work will start soon,” he said.
Mukul Sharma, forest range officer, Bhawali (under which Sattal falls), said the works proposed by the forest department haven’t been built yet.
“Interpretation centre is meant to educate people and bird lovers about the avian diversity found in this area. The library will have books on wildlife and nature. Besides, we have plans to build a small office for the ticket giver. All these will not take much space. We are not doing anything to disturb the area but help the visitors to understand the diversity of birds found in the area and admire them,” he said.
Subodh Uniyal, cabinet minister and spokesperson of the state government, said he will look into the matter. “The locals who are opposing the redevelopment should make a representation to me so that I can get the whole matter examined and see what can be done on this issue,” he said.