January 2016 News

Bird-watchers' Paradise Gharana Wetland Dying A Slow Death

3 January 2016

Jammu: 'This wetland is dying a slow death; please help us to preserve it for our future generations,' reads a billboard outside the famed Gharana wetland, the winter abode of thousands of migratory birds who throng this marshy land in R S Pura sector of Jammu district. The Gharana wetland, known as bird-watchers' paradise, is facing existential threat from rampant encroachment, silting and official apathy. 'This wetland was notified as a protected site in 1981 and an area of 200 acres was reserved for this wetland. However, 35 years have passed but still there is no demarcation of the land for the wetland by the revenue department,' Lalit Kumar, wildlife warden of Jammu, told PTI. He said the wildlife protection department was in possession of only five acres of marshy land in the wetland while the rest was being occupied by villagers. 'Our department is in control of only five acres of marshy land, in which these migratory birds come and the rest of the land is with the local villagers who use it for farming purpose,' Kumar said. The state's wildlife protection department officials admitted the wetland was dying a slow death, but they say there was still hope for its revival and the residents needed to be made aware of benefits of the winged visitors who throng this place every winter to escape harsh weather of Siberia. However, the villagers, who started to cultivate their land only after India and Pakistan agreed to a ceasefire on the international border in 2003, say the birds damage their crops as they accuse the successive state governments of failing to rehabilitate them. 'Prior to 2003, we were unable to cultivate our land due to continuous firing on the border but now every year these birds destroy our crop, they eat not just seeds but also saplings,' Manoj Kumar, a local farmer, said. He said every winter small farmers like him suffer huge damage to their crops. 'If the government is serious about doing something, it must first do something to rehabilitate the farmers by providing them with some alternative source of livelihood,' the farmer said. The villagers say that if the government was serious for preservation of the wetland then it should help develop infrastructure in the area to attract more tourists. 'If you have to reach this wetland you have to come through small and dilapidated lanes of the village. You don't have an approach road for the wetland and this shows the seriousness of the government to develop this place,' Girdhari Lal, another resident, said. . The farmers resort to bursting of crackers to scare away these birds. 'Last year the farmers resorted to bursting of crackers which scared away these birds and they left this place to take shelter on the other side of the border,' the Jammu wildlife warden said. Not just firecrackers but also household sewage, chemical fertilisers from surrounding fields and animal excreta entering the water body are posing a threat to the very survival of the wetland and its bio-diversity. The state boasts of 16 wetlands, with seven of them being in Jammu. Experts say these will vanish in three to four years if the authorities continue to neglect them. Gharana hosts 20,000 migratory birds coming from different countries every winter but wildlife experts warn that the number of winged visitors would be affected if steps to preserve the wetland were not taken on time. 'It is time to take measures to preserve this wetland, otherwise the winged visitors will find an alternative place for their annual migration,' Praveen Kumar, a wildlife expert, said. Common teal, northern pintail, northern shoveler, ruddy shelduck, gadwall, lesser whistling duck, purple swamp hen, little cormorant and ruff etc are some of the species that are seen here during winter season. The major attractions include bar-headed geese, comb duck, mallard, eurasian wigeon, common pochard, lesser whistling duck, spoon bill, black stork, woolly-necked stork and black necked stork. Some of the species like lesser whistling duck and purple swamp hen have also been observed breeding in the area. 'Even though the season is yet to start, more than 5,000 migratory birds of different species have arrived at the Gharana wetland which is far more than we had last year and we expect this year to have a record arrival of these birds,' A K Gupta, regional wildlife warden, said.