Dearth of water leaves wildlife dry

A core committee to plan conservation of the entire area is in the offing, report Siddhartha Bose & Chetan Chauhan.

india Updated: Nov 01, 2006 19:17 IST

Tigers went missing from Sariska Tiger Reserve in 2004 and now birds are vanishing from Keoladeo National Park at Bharatpur, courtesy the human-wildlife conflict.

The blame may not exactly fall on the Rajasthan government as it is caught in a precarious situation as very less rains has left both farmers and the wildlife pached, thereby demanding water from the same source—Pacchna Dam, having which only 500 million cubic feet (mcft) of water as compared to its capacity of 2,100 mcft.

As a immediate measure Rajasthan's Minister of Forest and Environment, Lakshmi Narayan Dave has announced constitution of a core committee to plan conservation of the entire area but remained non-committal on whether water will be released on not. He has a reason as 10,000 families are also dependant on water from the dam apart from wildlife in Bharatpur.

Ritwik Dutta, who anticipated the crisis and filed a petition in Rajasthan High Court, says unless 550 metric cubic feet of water is not released from the dam immediately the wildlife will die. Situation is precarious as the dam till September end has only 500 mcft of water. "Water has to come or else one will see the end of Bharatpur sanctuary," he said. The lakes and wetlands in Bharatpur have shrunk by 70-80 per cent.

The ecological consequences are already visible in Bharatpur. Faiyaz Khudsar, a wildlife biologist, says Bilaiti Kikar (Prosopis juliflora), a Mexican weed, is spreading like wildfire and will result in a death trap for the highly productive ecosystem. Wetlands are converting into dry marshes, resulting in wildlife population killing each other to survive and breeding going down dramatially. "I was not able to see even a single migratory bird in Bharatpur whereas these have arrived in other bird sanctuaries in Okhla and Burari area of Delhi," he said.

All this has turned the World Heritage Site into an obscure place for migratory birds, six years after Siberian cranes stopped visiting the park. "One can see migratory birds in Delhi and UP but not in Bharatpur, once their popular destination," Khudsar said.

The pinch is also being felt by the tourism industry that employs thousands of locals. Executive Director of the Indian Association of Tour Operators Kunji Lal Gour said that the operators throughout India know that the birds have dwindled. "Tour operators recommend the place only in winters for the ambience," he said.

For tourists Bharatpur falls on the important Golden Triangle route of Delhi-Agra-Jaipur which attracts lakhs of foreign tourists. Operators like Sanjay Kaushik of Rajputana Tours are avoiding Bharatpur as most tourists feel disappointed. Dutch tourist Irma Duursema, who insisted to visit the park with 24 other tourists, was disillusioned. "There were just two parrots and a kingfisher and a couple of other birds," Irma told HT, who has been visiting the park for the last 20 years.

First Published: Nov 01, 2006 19:17 IST