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Tuesday, Dec 10, 2019

Rajasthan’s Sambhar lake, where 18,000 birds died, among worst wetlands in India

Sambhar lake is among the eight worst-rated wetlands in the country when it comes to ecosystem management , according to a draft report prepared by the environment ministry in consultation with several independent experts.

india Updated: Nov 20, 2019 16:09 IST
Rakesh Goswami
Rakesh Goswami
Hindustan Times, Jaipur
At Rajasthan’s Sambhar lake, the carcasses of close to 18,000 migratory birds have been found since November 10.
At Rajasthan’s Sambhar lake, the carcasses of close to 18,000 migratory birds have been found since November 10.(PTI Photo)
         

Rajasthan’s Sambhar lake, the largest inland salt lake in India, where the carcasses of close to 18,000 migratory birds have been found since November 10 to the concern of environmentalists and ornithologists, is among the eight worst-rated wetlands in the country when it comes to ecosystem management , according to a draft report prepared by the environment ministry in consultation with several independent experts.

The environment ministry in August started the process of preparing a health index of 100 major wetlands in India. An environment ministry official, requesting anonymity, said the final peer-reviewed report is likely to be released by the first week of December.

According to another official familiar with the development, the ministry asked state forest departments to self-evaluate the wetlands in their territories on various parameters and submit a report.

“The parameters for the wetlands ecosystem health assessment were seven including suitability of water quality for aquatic life, the extent of plant invasion in water bodies and inflow and outflow of water channels,” said the second official quoted above, who also requested not to be identified.

The self-assessment was then evaluated by a group consisting of experts from the Gujarat-based Geer Ecological Education and Research (GEER ) Foundation; Wetlands International South Asia (WISA) World Wide Fund for Nature-India; the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History; the Environment Planning and Coordination Organisation (EPCO); and the Chilika Development Authority.

The committee of experts ranked these wetlands on eight levels with A being the best and E being the worst, officials said.

According to a copy of the draft report seen by HT, the A category (A+ and A-) includes wetlands such as Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur, Little Rann of Kutchh in Gujarat, and the Sunderbans in West Bengal, which have the best ecosystem management in place. In all, 19 wetlands fall in this category.

Wetlands in the B level (B+ and B-) include Pong Dam in Himachal Pradesh, Vembanand Kol in Kerala, Chilika in Odisha and Doyang in Nagaland, where the existing ecosystem management needs to be strengthened, the draft report said. Twenty six wetlands fall in this category.

The C category (C+ and C-) have 21 wetlands such as Upper Ganga Canal in Uttar Pradesh, Point Calimere in Tamil Nadu, Kokkare Bellur Bird Sanctuary in Karnataka and Bhoj Wetland in Madhya Pradesh, the report said, adding that in these wetlands, vast improvement is needed.

But, the highest number of wetlands, 34, fall in the lowest categories, D and E, which, according to the evaluation, needs “radical” improvement in management of the ecosystems for aquatic life to survive. Of these, eight wetlands are in the lowest E category.

“Sambhar Lake has got the lowest rating and this is a reason of concern for us,” said a Rajasthan government official, who requested anonymity.

Sambhar salt lake, located 80 km southwest of the city of Jaipur, is recognized as a wetland of international importance and a key wintering area for tens of thousands birds. The discovery of thousands of bird carcasses n the area since November 10 has raised concern among ornithologists and environmentalists. Until Monday, 17,984 birds had been found dead in the surroundings since November 10.

The cause of the deaths, according to the Bikaner-based College of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, is suspected to be avian botulism, a neuromuscular illness of birds.

Rajasthan’s environment secretary Sreya Guha said corrective measures have been put in place, based on inputs from experts at the National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases (NIHSAD) in Bhopal and Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI) in Bareilly. “We sent them samples earlier,” she said.

Both Sambhar Lake and the Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan are protected wetlands under the Ramsar Convention. According to the environment ministry, 26 wetlands in the country are notified as protected under the Convention on Wetlands, called the Ramsar Convention, of 1971. One-hundred and fifteen are protected under the Environment Protection Act.

Apart from Sambhar, the other Ramsar sites, rated on the lowest parameter was Loktak in Manipur and Deepor Beel in Assam.

“Most of the non-Ramsar sites are in a bad shape except in Gujarat where eight of the nine wetlands were found to be in good shape,” the government official quoted above said.

Mokarsagar in south Gujarat was in the B category.

“The ratings will help the state wetland authorities to priorities their conservation efforts – those rated low will need for attention and better ecosystem services,” said Goldin Quadros, principal scientist at the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History,.

The wetlands health ratings, he said, were not permanent. “The ratings will be evaluated periodically and a wetland rated low today may get a better category tomorrow,” Quadros said.

In 2017, the environment ministry notified rules prohibiting changes in the land use of wetlands, barred industries close to wetlands and dumping of waste and sewage. It also asked state governments to set up state a wetlands authority to be headed by the chief minister for protection of key terrestrial aquatic life systems. The health rating of the ecosystems is part of the process of strengthening management of wetlands, the second official cited above said.