‘Dying Wetlands of J&K’: Encroachment, pollution, poaching among main challenges in preservation

Flock of Ruffs 1 scaled 1
Flock of Ruffs 1 scaled 1

Tawi/Srinagar, Feb 2: 

Wetlands aren't wasteland but biodiversity hotspots that provide habitat for countless plants and animals and there is a need to preserve them for future generations, Wildlife department officials said on Wednesday.

The plight of Wetlands in Jammu and is miserable despite all efforts at official and non-government levels. The judicial intervention also played a limited role to impact the deterioration process of the wetlands in this region.

“The basic challenges before us are to save these wetlands from encroachment mainly in urban areas, throwing of solid waste in them, and poaching,” said Ifshan Dewan Wildlife Warden Wetlands (Kashmir) adding further that most people think that wetlands are wastelands but they must know wetlands are biodiversity hotspots.

“Besides the sanitation and dwelling are challenges as almost every wetland in J&K is full of silt,” she said.

In the Jammu region, Gharana, a dying wetland, is located merely 600 meters from the border between and Pakistan, the 200 acres of the Wetland situated near Jammu town (boundaries yet to be demarcated) harbours around 50 species of wintering waterbirds most abundantly the Common Teal and Northern Shovelers. Gharana is partially covered with various water plants — water hyacinth Eichhornia crassipes, Hydrilla spp and Typha spp.

Despite being designated as a ‘Conservation Reserve' a decade ago by the Government of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and also declared as an ‘Important Bird Area (IBA)' by international organizations, the neglected, the dying wetland is still struggling for legal status.

The left side of the wetland is bounded by a village, Gharana while on the right are agricultural fields. Hostility between the villagers and the waterbirds are inevitable and visible on the ground. During winters, this wetland is cackling with wintering waterbirds that even attempt to settle into the surrounding agricultural fields. The locals treat them as crop destroyers, owing to particularly one species, the Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus). According to the villagers, geese raid the crops and to combat it the locals have taken to bursting loud fire-crackers to scare them away whenever they try to settle near the agricultural lands.

The dying wetland's area, which was demarcated as a ‘reserve area' comes under revenue land hence it was treated as village property by locals, known as ‘Shamlat'. Thus, management and conservation activities lead to conflicts between managers and the local community further affecting the wetland. Despite the Department of Wildlife Protection, J&K, bringing this issue to the apex level several times, the lack of political will and a negative attitude of the locals led to the Gharana, the dying wetland vanishing into thin air. Drainage of domestic, livestock and agricultural waste and encroachment of cropland in the already shrinking, dying wetland are making the situation worse.

A signboard at the entrance of the dying wetland has been put up by the Department of Wildlife, Jammu and Kashmir.

Despite witnessing the dying wetland's wealth of water-birds, most abundantly the common teal and Northern Shovelers, the impact of the bursting of fire-crackers and encroachment around wetland is grave. Drainage of domestic, livestock and agricultural waste, as well as the growing of crops within the wetland, have worsened the situation.

The need of the hour is to sensitize the public; authorities need to talk to villagers and also need to pay heed to their concerns, clear their doubts and provide satisfactory solutions to them. Further, making people aware of the provisional values of the wetland like social, ecological and mainly economic needs may work wonders. This can be achieved through electronic media, educational tours, compensation schemes and confidence building.

Undoubtedly, multi-stakeholder participation is required for this endeavour. Therefore, governmental organisations, non-government organisations and individual participation by conservationists, activists, bird watchers and visitors will play a vital role in convincing the locals that conservation of this dying wetland is important. The buffer and additional area for the wetland (at least area under marsh) would be required to safeguard the habitat and water-birds. There can be a win-win situation for all, with locals gaining employment opportunities through eco-tourism and symbiotically winter birds will gain back their safe refuge at Gharana and it hopefully won't be remembered as the dying wetland. (Inputs from the account of field experience of Mr Neeraj Mahar at Gharana Wetland)