Dams · Wetlands

Punjab Wetlands 2017: Ramsar Sites Under Severe Threats

Introduction

National Wetlands Atlas has mapped 1381 big wetlands in Punjab State. It has also identified 5049 small wetlands of less than 2.25 hectare area. Total wetland area estimated in the state is 86283 hectare which is about 1.71 per cent of its total geographic area. Out of this, with 59864 hectare the river/stream is accounts for for 69.38 per cent of the wetlands. Reservoirs/Barrages ranks second with 13.74 per cent share spread over 11858 hectare of area.. http://www.moef.nic.in/downloads/public-information/NWIA_Punjab_Atlas.pdf

There are three Ramsar sites (wetlands of International importance) in the state- Harike, Kanjli and Ropar. These wetlands are important habitats for waterfowl, fish and diversity of other flora and fauna including endangered and vulnerable species. Two other wetlands- Ranjit Sagar and Nangal are National wetlands.

Ranjit Sagar is an interstate wetland spreading over in three states (Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and J&K). There are 5 small wetlands considered as state wetlands owing to their rich biodiversity and ecological characters. These are – Keshopur-Miani Jheel, Kahnuwan Chhamb, Jastarwal Jheel, Mand Bharthala and Dholbaha Reservoir. In all, Punjab has 12 important natural and 9 man-made wetlands.

Wetlands of Punjab

Types of Wetlands in Punjab

Under “National Wetland Conservation Programme (NWCP)” conservation activities were initiated in 1987-88 at Harike wetland, in 1988-89 at Kanjli and in 1998-99 at Ropar. Conservation measures at Nangal were initiated in 2008-09.

Harike was included in the list of Ramsar sites in 1990 and subsequently Ropar & Kanjli were also added in the Ramsar list during 2002. Ranjit Sagar was declared National wetland in 2006 and Nangal wetland in 2008. https://goo.gl/XRRFUL; http://www.cgwb.gov.in/WQ/Punjab%20Book%20Final%20for%20Printing.pdf

Punjab Wetlands Map

Kanjli Wetland Succumbing To Pollution and Government Apathy

Kanjli Wetland is a man made Wetland created in 1870 by constructing the head works across the Bien River, a tributary of the Beas River to provide irrigation. The wetland subsumes the Kanjli Lake and is located in the Kapurthala district of Punjab. Given its rich bio-diversity, the wetland was recognized as Ramsar Wetlands Site in 2002. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanjli_Wetland (Wikipedia, 16 January 2018)

Spread over 183 hectare, the wetland has religious importance as it is a part of the Kali Bein, a holy rivulet associated with Guru Nanak Dev. The wetland was once a famous picnic place and hot spot for migratory and native birds, but due to increasing pollution and decreasing water flow the wetland is fast losing its relevance. The tourist infrastructure at wetlands like boats, restaurant etc and in neglected conditions.  http://www.hindustantimes.com/punjab/kanjli-wetland-a-tale-of-punjab-government-s-apathy/story-M5J5DfBZAhnEiUrFTGGM5M.html (Hindustan Times, 5 June 2017)

Over the years, the water inflow in the wetlands from the source has reduced and siltation has increased. Sewage pollution via Kali Ben River has gone up manifold. The chemicals pollution from farm lands in catchment is eventually reaching the wetland. Due to pollution and in absence of fresh water flow, water hyacinth has grown all over the lake affecting the aquatic ecosystem. As a result of all this, migratory birds and visitors have been avoiding the wetland for many years now. Under such circumstances, the future for Kanjli seems uncertain. http://www.hindustantimes.com/punjab/kanjli-wetland-a-tale-of-punjab-government-s-apathy/story-M5J5DfBZAhnEiUrFTGGM5M.html (Your Story, 07 Nov 2017)

In July, Rana Gurjit Singh, Irrigation Minister has announced a complete facelift of Kanjli Wetland. As per the minister statement the entire work of cleaning the holy Kali Bein and rejuvenating the Kanjli Wetland tourist spot would be completed within coming six months. As per the report, Kanjli Wetland project was launched to develop the site as an ideal tourist destination in the state from 2002-2007 but it remained neglected for ten years  under SAD-BJP alliance government. https://dailypost.in/news/punjab/kanjli-wetland-facelift-rana-gurjit/ (Daily Post, 24 July 2017)

Pollution Poisoning Fish, Keeping Avian Visitors Away From Ropar, Harike

In 2012, a study covering all the three Ramsar sites has found that fishes from Kanjli were the most infected (71.1 percent) in comparison to Harike (60.8 percent) and Ropar (28.7 percent) wetlands. While the water inflow has reduced, the rate of siltation has increased. http://ugcdskpdf.unipune.ac.in/Journal/uploads/BL/BL11-120010-A-9.pdf

Bar-headed geese are among the birds whose numbers have dwindled at the Ropar Wetland.   | Photo Credit: Lingaraj Panda

The Asian Water Bird Census 2017 has revealed that the number of water birds visiting the Ropar and other wetlands have reduced by 10 per cent. As per the census, 2,302 visited the wetlands in 2017 against 3,114 in 2016. Human disturbances like boating, fishing and unavailability of food could be keeping the migratory birds away from the wetlands. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/fewer-migratory-water-birds-sighted-at-ropar/article17431005.ece (The Hindu, 9 March 2017)

Similarly, there has been a 12 per cent drop in the number of migratory birds flying to famed Harike wetlands since 2016. According to the Punjab department of forest and wildlife preservation, the number of migratory birds that came to the wetlands fell from 105,890 in 2016 to 93,385 this year — a decrease of 11.8 per cent. The department also says that the habitats of migratory birds are being gradually vanishing due to intensive agricultural activities and excessive pressure on the wetlands. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chandigarh/12-drop-in-migratory-birds-spotted-at-harike-wetlands/articleshow/57240344.cms (The Times of India, 20 February 2017)

The declining trend was also observed in 2014. http://www.dailypioneer.com/state-editions/chandigarh/population-of-water-birds-dwindling-in-punjab-wetlands.html (The Pioneer, 24 July 2014)

Keshopur Wetlands, The First Notified Community Reserve, Presents Glimpse Of Hope

Punjab Wetlands Google Earth Image
Google Earth Image showing some important wetlands site of Punjab state 

The Keshopur wetlands also known as Keshopur-Miani Community Reserve or ‘Chhamb’ in Punjabi, is one of the Asia’s biggest wetlands. It is located in Gurdaspur district right in the middle of the Ravi and Beas rivers. It is believed that the area must have been a flood plain of the two rivers before barrages and dams tamed their spirals. Now rain and groundwater feed the land. The 850-acre-marsh was home to over 25,000 migratory and native birds during last winter.

The wetlands was declared as a community reserve following a Punjab Government Notification dated 25 June 2007 making it the first-ever notified community reserve of India. As a result the locals and the forest department jointly manage the wetland and the ownership rests with the nearby five villages namely Keshopur, Maghar Mudhian, Mattam, Miani and Dala.

The envious health of Keshopur at a time when three famous Ramsar sites Harike, Ropar and Kanjli–are battling pollution and encroachments emphasises the need to involve locals to protect natural hot spots.  http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/cut-above-rest (India Water Portal, 5 December 2016)

Keshopur Chamb has been receiving a record number of migratory birds since 2011. A bird census conducted in 2016 pegged the number of avians of nearly 72 species, visiting the wetlands at 25,302. The number was 20,400 in 2015. Significantly, 2016’s arrival is six times of 2011 when the wetland saw only 4,500 birds. On the contrary Kanjli wetland has hardly seen migratory birds visiting it for the past many years due to its poor upkeep. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/migratory-birds-at-a-record-high-in-keshopur-chamb-in-gusdaspur/ (The Indian Express, 2 February 2016)

Keshopur, a favourite of native and migratory birds in Punjab.
Keshopur, a favourite of native and migratory birds in Punjab. (Image Source: India Water Portal) 

Forest Department officials have attributed the increase in the bird numbers to clearing of water hyacinth and encroachments apart from desilting. The wetland has been developed into a bird sanctuary and as a tourist destination for the bird watchers at a cost of Rs 8.32 crore under a project that started in March 2013 and completed by March 2016. http://www.hindustantimes.com/punjab/over-13-thousand-migratory-birds-arrive-at-keshopur-chhamb/story-PvQvriXgTZkZBNnYaroE3J.html  (Hindustan Times, 7 December 2015)

Compiled by Bhim Singh Rawat (bhim.sandrp@gmail.com)

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