Can Pune revive Dr Salim Ali bird sanctuary?
Once popular among birdwatchers within and outside Pune as the ‘Yerawada Birding Point,’ the spot, in its heydays, used to feature at least 30 different species of bird. However, due to massive garbage dumping and polluted river water, it is no longer frequented in large numbers by birds or bird watchers.
The natural bird sanctuary on the Mula-Mutha river bank, that was dedicated to the memory of the great ornithologist Dr Salim Ali nearly two decades ago, is as good as dead now due to neglect by authorities. Once popular among birdwatchers within and outside Pune as the ‘Yerawada Birding Point,’ the spot, in its heydays, used to feature at least 30 different species of birds including ruddy shelduck, red wattled lapwings and black headed ibis. However, due to massive garbage dumping and polluted river water, it is no longer frequented in large numbers by birds or bird watchers.
According to activists and bird watchers, groups of vagrants gamble and consume alcohol amidst the trees on a routine basis now, making the place unsafe. The massive dumping of garbage and a heavily polluted river are among the other reasons behind the reducing frequency of birds visiting the spot.
In an interview with Hindustan Times, Dharmaraj Patil, an ornithologist, said, “It is sad to see that this once beautiful bird sanctuary has come to such a defunct state. The Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary was home to various species of birds and a place where one could see as many as 25 species of butterflies as well. However, negligence over the years has left the sanctuary in a poor condition.”
Patil said there were three main reasons for the destruction of the sanctuary; the highly polluted water of the Mula-Mutha river; dumping of waste in the vicinity by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) and the presence of groups of people organising liquor parties amidst the trees.
Another well-known bird lover/ bird watcher from the city, Dr Satyasheel Naik said, “There was a time when beautiful birds could be seen sitting on the rocks in the river. However, that sight has now become history and hardly any birds are seen at the sanctuary now.”
He added that the construction work happening around the sanctuary and water pollution has had an adverse impact on the green cover of the area, which has significantly reduced over the years, and the biodiversity of the sanctuary.
Earlier this month, builder PA Inamdar, chairman, Tain Constructions, began constructing a fence to demarcate his property, which alarmed citizen activists who were taking a keen interest in the survival of the bird sanctuary. When contacted by Hindustan Times, Inamdar said, “We have had this land for over 30 years now. We constructed a wall fencing with the sole intent of protecting our land. No development of this land for any purpose is on our cards.” The piece of land is registered in the name of AP Inamdar, PA Inamdar’s wife.
Frustrated by the deplorable state of the bird sanctuary, Satish Khot, former president of the National Society for Clean Cities (NSCC, Pune chapter) and fellow activist Bijoy Guha, former chief executive officer of an auto component company, wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging for his intervention to save the bird sanctuary.
Former president of the National Society for Clean Cities (NSCC), Khot pointed out that for over three decades, a plot of land on the banks of the Mula-Mutha river, forming the southern boundary of Kalyaninagar, had been reserved as the Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary. In 2017, the plot was declared as a park and no constructions or businesses were to be allowed on the stretch of river bank (identified as Reservation PK-14 in the Pune City Development Plan). Bird watchers had a new found hope that the bird park would be developed.
The activists said that as a result of a recent modification in the Development Plan (Modification M 5.91), permission has been given to “owners of a couple of selected plots to construct high rise buildings on the river bank. These plots are right in the middle of the stretch (sanctuary), thus cutting the land reserved for the park into two separate parts”.
They noted that this modification will significantly reduce the size of the green belt planned as a bird sanctuary, which will no longer be continuous because of the interruption caused by the high rise buildings that could arise between the two parts.
In 2016, district officials said that while the revenue department owns the eight hectares of land in the bird sanctuary, it would ask the forest department to maintain the area with a view to promote bird watching activity. That, however, does not have seem to have improved the situation.
PMC clarifies on bird sanctuary
When questioned about the complaints regarding garbage dumping in the sanctuary, assistant municipal commissioner and Ahmednagar road ward officer Vasant Patil said there is some misunderstanding as the PMC garbage dump is located near the sanctuary.
“We store the garbage collected from across the city at this dump before shifting it to the processing units. The PMC owns a one acre plot next to the sanctuary which includes the crematorium and the garbage dump. It may be possible that some of the garbage is spilling onto the sanctuary premises, but the forest department do not allow PMC staffers to enter the sanctuary area,” he said.
The head of the Pune Municipal Corporation’s garden department, Ashok Ghorpade, clarified that the sanctuary neither belongs to the PMC nor is being managed by the PMC. “The land is owned by the forest and revenue department,” he added.