February 2008 News

Valley Wetlands Victims Of Encroachment, Apathy

1 February 2008
Greater Kashmir

Srinagar: Wetlands in Kashmir are rapidly shrinking due to official apathy, massive siltation and rampant encroachment, endangering thousands of local and migratory birds, according to experts. In the past few decades while many wetlands have completely vanished, some have considerably shrunk in size. These include the famous wetlands in Kashmir like Hokarsar, Haigam, Shalbugm Mirgund, and Wullar besides a large number of satellite wetlands found in areas adjourning bigger water bodies, which have vanished due to urbanisation and encroachment. Experts say that massive siltation and encroachment have plagued nearly all wetlands in the Valley, particularly the Haigam conservation reserve in south Kashmir’s Varmul district, Hokarsar and Mirgund wetlands in Srinagar outskirts. “Over the years, silt and encroachment has reduced many wetlands to half their size,” said an environmentalist. The siltation and encroachment together cause reduction in water levels of wetlands, posing a serious threat to survival of birds, both local and migratory. “Some years back, the water levels were very high in wetlands, but now the depth has reduced significantly,” said Muhammad Shafi Mir, a resident of Hokarsar. “Water is of prime importance for a wetland to survive. Otherwise it will turn into a marsh.” Many buildings and residential houses have come up along the coasts of Wullar and Hokarsar Wetlands, with the concerned government departments watching the constructions haplessly. The Hokersar wetland, situated 16 km from Srinagar, has also shrunk many sq kms compared to its original area of 13.75 sq km. Though the wetland, according to officials of wildlife department, hosted nearly 7 lakh migratory birds this year, experts fear the number might decline, given the rising encroachment and siltation. “We agree that there are some challenges before us vis-à-vis preservation of wetlands, but we are trying our level best to preserve them,” claims Wildlife Warden (Wetlands), Rouf Ahmad Zargar. “We are raising the bunds along the periphery of these water bodies to maintain an optimum water level.” But experts believe the conservation of wetlands needs serious official attention besides a massive de-silting and de- weeding campaign to regain them. “This is possible only if government seriously takes up the task of preserving these water bodies,” says Chief Wildlife Biologist Dr Mir Mansoor. “The encroached land needs be reclaimed so that the wetlands regain their charm.” “The damage can be controlled if officials and people are made aware of the importance of wetlands,” says Shabir Ahmad Wani, a teacher. Many officials in the Wildlife Protection Department who spoke to Greater Kashmir said the lack of coordination between different departments is one of the major problems hampering the conservation of wetlands. “The Wildlife department cannot remove the encroachments. It is for the municipal bodies and development authorities to remove the encroachments. But these departments should have the maps with them which can be provided by the revenue department. So, it’s not only the wildlife department which is responsible for the mess,” they said, adding until all these departments coordinate it will be very difficult to conserve wetlands. Pessimism aside, the good news according to Rouf Zargar is that the Government of India has brought the three wetlands in Kashmir under the National Wetland Conservation Plan. These include the Mirgund, Haigam and Shalbug wetlands. “We are looking forward to upgrade these wetlands,” Zargar told Greater Kashmir.

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