Tag Archives: wetlands

Black-necked Stork with beak locked in garbage ring rescued- and fitted with a ‘good’ ring!

A Black-necked Stork that made global headlines because its beak was locked in a garbage ring has been rescued!
After about 5 days of trying, the Stork was finally caught on Wednesday at 9 in the morning. The stork was first spotted at Basai IBA in Gurgaon.

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The Stork was fed a fish and given some water. It ate after days! We are not sure if it managed to drink any water all these days.

Also remember Delhi and Gurgaon is at its hottest in June with temperatures between 40-45 degrees C!

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The Stork rests after its ordeal.

 

IMG-20180613-WA0007It took attempts over many days to catch the Stork.

The final team that caught it includes: Haryana Wildlife Inspector Sunil Tanwar, Krishan guard, drone experts Ajay and Amresh, birdwatchers Sonu Dalal, Anil Gandas, Rakesh Ahlawat, from BNHS: Kasim, Mansur, Debashis.

The bird has been ringed- with the number K16- and will hopefully lead a plastic free life!

And I also hope other birds and animals don’t become victims to garbage thrown by us.

Long live this young Stork!

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The bird has been fitted with a ring of a good type– an identification band with the number K16.

 

Photo Courtesy: Haryana Forest Department and Rakesh Ahlawat

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Why Delhi’s Natural Spaces Are Under Threat

There is a sense of oldness in natural places.

The earth before you will have evidence of being freshly trodden- the many-grooved footprints of birdwatchers in their field shoes, tracks of Nilgai, three-cleaved marks left by hopping birds. The marks may be new, the smell of fresh animal droppings stinging the  air.

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An ancient Bada Peelu in the Qutub complex, Delhi.

If you’re standing under trees in Aravalli’s Mangar forest, the leaves dapple the sunlight, leaving chequered shadows on the ground and on your face. The colour of the light, and so your immediate world, may become a greenish yellow, sieved through the leaves; on the ground, shadows shift as the leaves move, creating a kaleidoscopic effect. If there are Nilgai nearby, say in the Delhi Ridge, you may be standing on a path made by them. If you are in a wetland – like Basai or Najafgarh, the levels of the water are different in different seasons, and the land around the water shifts accordingly. You could be a completely bone-dry spot that becomes aquatic at other times. Water shapes the place, migratory birds mould its character. The oldest things on earth — birds that are actually living dinosaurs, water that whips terra firma — create the place.

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When Delhi talks about being an “old” city, we mostly refer to fifteenth-century monuments and tombs, the sun warming their stone on winter afternoons. We think of Old Delhi’s ancient bazaars – still selling spices and silver, flanked by solid wrought iron pillars which have seen the times of kings. We think of the feeling of Delhi, an old capital, a centre of power, the sense of government flags, corridor whispers, red beacons, which are hints in the air — power was and is here. But very few think of Delhi as an old city through its natural spaces.

Maybe that’s why Delhi-NCR’s spectacular natural spaces are under threat.

We are at a remarkable moment in the story of the city – citizens are fighting, under duress, to preserve Delhi’s history, for its future. Of the many struggles going on in the city — to preserve avenue trees, to save the trees at the iconic Pragati Maidan from getting axed for redevelopment, and to conserve lakes, three stand out in scale.

One is the pitched battle to save parts of the world’s oldest mountain range, the Aravallis. It may not be enough to say that these hills and ridges are ancient geological heritage; it may not even be enough to say the Aravallis act as a safety net for Delhi, protecting it from complete desertification from the Thar. Clearly, these arguments are not enough for developers and a determined state government bent towards hacking away Aravalli’s trees, levelling the ridges, and to sell green-view apartments, which certainly won’t have a “green” view for long.

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A concerned citizen has moved the National Green Tribunal against the cutting of more than 6,000 trees in the Aravallis in Faridabad. While the Haryana forest department says all of the Aravallis are deemed forest, trees were cut all the same. Not only does this fly in the face of environmental concerns, it is a denial of the fact that the Aravallis too — and not just apartments — are part of cultural and lived heritage for Delhi, Faridabad and Gurgaon. Delhi’s Paharganj, derived from “Pahar” or hill, is named such as it was a hilly area, and today the Delhi Ridge (named as the area undulates with Aravalli hills, ridges and streams) is a forest that gives lungs to the gasping city.

Another chapter of forgotten history, lost through tomes of city master plans, is Delhi and Haryana’s Sahibi river. “Cartographic assassination” is what rivers and wetlands face, as they get described in public record and maps, says urban ecology and planning expert Manu Bhatnagar. What was once Sahibi river has today become Najafgarh naala. In this naala too, Delhi and Haryana show reluctance to recognise the old Najafgarh jheel, which hosts flamingos, and migratory birds from Tibet and other high altitude regions.

The area also has what is considered one of the biggest heronries in North India – more than 200 birds have created communal nests in a clump of trees. Heronries are classic features next to wetlands, reminiscent of the sight of squawking chicks-in-a-row at heronies in the world heritage site, Bharatpur. Indian National Trust for Art and Heritage (INTACH) had filed a case in the NGT for the conservation of Najafgarh jheel, though the lake is yet to be officially protected. Birdwatchers and citizens have been rallying for the conservation of the area for years, even as flats in Gurgaon inch closer to the wetland, and have swallowed its basin.

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Finally, there is Basai. It is known in bird watching circles as Delhi-NCR’s finest wetland. It lies unassumingly in a corner of Gurgaon, shoved uncomfortably close to construction sites. This incredible site, hosting nearly 300 species, designated an “Important Bird Area” due to its avian wealth, is created by sewage water. But ecosystem processes sieve and save the water, creating not a filthy cesspool but a resounding arena of life. This is one of those rare places where you will find both the migratory goose in the water and the resident eagle in the sky; where you have a wet grassland merging into a wetland, creating a green-and-blue, grass-and-water mosaic one normally sees in far more “remote” or “wild” spaces.

In less remote, urban spaces, which ironically jostle for both breath and water, wetlands often turn to wastelands, quite literally so. The Delhi Bird Foundation, helmed by avid birdwatchers, has approached the NGT against waste going into the wetland –a construction and demolition waste plant is coming up next to Basai wetlands. Fifteen-year-old birdwatcher and Delhi resident Maitreya Sukumar explains why: “It is a wetland home to many birds. It is a thriving ecosystem. It gets rare birds each year and should definitely be preserved,” he says. Maitreya’s mother is one of the petitioners in the case.

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All over the world, natural spaces in crowded cities are cherished as islands of succour. These are not just points, but “places”, which hold deep meaning for those who visit, an ongoing relationship of belonging between person and place. These places carry a sense of being old, timeless, and un-changing in the surrounding echelons of chaos and noise. New York’s Central Park is not famous because it is a park, but because it is in one of the world’s busiest, fastest-paced cities; the park itself is maintained more as a wilderness than a fully manicured area. The Nara Park in Japan holds several deer; the deer come out and stroll through the city of Nara, walking between people, an unsaid conversation between hooves and heels.

Closer home, Sikkim has recently passed a unique legislation to increase fraternal bonds and personal relationships with trees, allowing a person to adopt a tree as a child: the Sikkim Forest Tree (Amity and Reverence) Rules 2017.

Delhi’s own amity does not lie only in its buildings. Delhi’s geological and ecological history has shaped the names of its places, the quality of local life, and resilience — an ancient story of Nature’s survival in a harsh, polarised environment and environs.

It would be imperative for India’s national capital to not forget where it came from.

This first appeared in my column for DailyO, here

It’s World Water Week. Why India’s new Wetland Rules have it all wrong.

The 2017 Wetland Rules limit monitoring and omit important wetland types

Earlier this year, a judgment by the Uttarakhand High Court, stating that Ganga and Yamuna rivers are “living entities”, captured the national imagination. It is worth noting that wetlands, the other major water-based ecosystem apart from rivers, are at a moment of policy transition in the country. This year, a new legal framework for wetlands was passed, the Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017, replacing the earlier Rules of 2010. Also this year, the Supreme Court passed an order directing States to identify wetlands in the country within a stipulated timeframe.

Going forward

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Sambar and Chital at a stream in Pench Tiger Reserve.

The 2017 Wetland Rules have been criticised for doing away with strong wetland monitoring systems and omitting important wetland types. At the same time, the Supreme Court order directs States to come forward and notify wetlands. What then could be the way forward?

The 2010 and 2017 Rules for wetlands both emphasise that the ecological character of wetlands ought to be maintained for their conservation. ‘Ecological character’ refers to processes and components which make the wetland a particular, and sometimes unique, ecosystem. For example, as lagoons like Chilika (Odisha) and Pulicat (Tamil Nadu/Andhra Pradesh) are characterised by a mix of saline and fresh water, the flows of each type need to be maintained; river flood plains contain wetlands that require conservation so they can re-fuel the river with fish and other aquatic life during flooding.

In the 2010 Rules, some related criteria were made explicit, such as natural beauty, ecological sensitivity, genetic diversity, historical value, etc. These have been omitted in the 2017 Rules. There are a few reasons why this is problematic. First, there is multiple interest around wetlands. Multiple interests also have governance needs, and this makes it absolutely necessary to identify and map these multiple uses. Leading on from this, and second, it is crucial to identify ecological criteria so that the wetlands’ character can be maintained. The key to wetland conservation is not just understanding regimes of multiple use — but conserving or managing the integrity of the wetland ecosystem. Finally, restriction of activities on wetlands will be done as per the principle of ‘wise use’, determined by the State wetland authority. Whether wise use will include maintaining ecological character remains to be seen. Under the new Rules, no authority to issue directions, which are binding in nature to desist from any activity detrimental to wetland conservation, has been prescribed to State wetland authorities.

Salt pans are an example how one use (of making salt) has trumped the other (of environmental balance). Salt pans as ‘wetlands’ have been omitted from the new Rules. They were identified as wetlands in the 2010 Rules, as they are often important sites of migratory birds and other forms of biodiversity. The omission in the 2017 Rules suggests that while saltpans do exist as wetlands, they do not require any conservation or ecological balance. The inference can also be that it would be acceptable to tip the environmental balance or integrity of such a wetland, which could lead to damage and pollution.

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Forest wetland in Asola Sanctuary, Delhi.

The case of Deepor Beel

The issue of wetlands being multiple-use areas — and subsequently being abused due to clashes of interest — found centre-stage this year with the observations of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in the case of Deepor Beel.

Deepor Beel is a Ramsar site and a part of it is also wildlife sanctuary in Guwahati, Assam. (‘Ramsar Sites are designated because they meet the criteria for identifying wetlands of international importance.’) This wetland harbours a wide variety of biodiversity, and also suffers from intense man-made pressure — the city’s municipal waste is dumped close to the Beel. Large, meat-eating storks (Greater adjutant storks) are ironically found eating from the mountains of garbage at the site. Potential impacts of contamination or poisoning from the garbage are still unknown. This January, 26 storks died. The fact that Deepor Beel (Beel means water body) exists as a wetland does not prevent garbage dumping; this is a fate faced by many wetlands. The NGT’s observations on Deepor Beel are interesting and symptomatic of what is happening in several wetlands. In an inspection done by the judicial member of the Tribunal, it was noted that waste was being dumped “not beyond the site but within it,” and “demarcations are made by drying out areas or cutting off water sources”. These are classic ways of killing a wetland and turning it from a wet to a dry ecosystem; or from a lake to a garbage dump or cesspool. The Tribunal has now asked for the “traditional” spread of the wetland.

Given all the modern uses of wetlands, or the use of the wetland only for its land, looking at traditional cartography may be one way to understand catchments of wetlands. It may also be a way of restoring some modicum of ecological character, identity or ‘rights’ to wetlands, as the river judgment suggested. There are challenges ahead in identifying wetlands – multiple and competing use is just one of them. Understanding the historic spread and ecological character will be an important bulwark for the way forward. Setting clear governance systems would be the next. Without either, we are looking at a complete dilution of wetlands in the country.

This first appeared here.

Wet/land II: Why the new Wetland Draft Rules are a disaster

The government is trying to refine its wetland rules. It’s a case of throwing out the baby with the waters.

Wetlands need to be reinforced as more than just open sources of water. How they are identified and conserved requires a rethink

The government is all set to change the rules on wetlands. The Draft Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2016, which will replace the Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules of 2010, seek to give power to the States to decide what they must do with their wetlands. This includes deciding which wetlands should be protected and what activities should be allowed or regulated, while making affable calls for ‘sustainability’ and ‘ecosystem services’.

On the face of it, this appears to favour decentralisation and federalism. But the peculiar reality of wetlands shows that local pulls and pressures are not the best determinants for their protection. Both water in liquid form and wetlands in the form of ‘land’ are hotly contested, making wetlands the most imperilled natural ecosystem worldwide. It is imperative that the Draft Wetlands Rules, 2016 (comments for which close today) be looked at with a hard, if not cynical, eye. Three issues are of immediate concern. First, the draft does away with the Central Wetlands Regulatory Authority, which hadsuo moto cognisance of wetlands and their protection. Second, the draft rules contain no ecological criteria for recognising wetlands, such as biodiversity, reefs, mangroves, and wetland complexes. And finally it has deleted sections on the protection of wetlands, and interpretation of harmful activities which require regulation, which found reference in the 2010 rules.

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Experiments with water systems

One of the biggest ironies around water is that it comes from rivers and wetlands, yet it is seen as divorced from them. While water is used as a resource or good, public policy does not always grasp that it is part of a natural ecosystem. Efforts at engineering water systems are thus efforts at augmenting water supply rather than strengthening the capacities of ecological systems. There have been many recent attempts at this sort of engineering — Karnataka had dredged its rivers, for instance; other States may follow suit. The Ken and Betwa rivers in Madhya Pradesh are to be interlinked, and we have a history of building dams and barrages to store water. Parliament has already passed a Waterways Act, which will make navigation channels of 111 rivers, by straightening, dredging, and creating barrages.

While these projects require serious ecological consideration, they are usually informed only by the need to ‘use’ water. For instance, river dredging may increase the capacity of a river channel, but can also interfere with underground reservoirs. Over-dredging can destroy these reservoirs. River interlinking changes hydrology and can benefit certain areas from a purely anthropocentric perspective, but does nothing to augment water supply to other non-target districts. Constructions of barrages have impacts on ecosystems and economies: the commercially important hilsa fish are no longer found in the Padma river after the construction of the Farraka barrage across the Ganges.

In the case of wetlands like ponds, lakes and lagoons, the contestations are more fierce. Who owns the wetland is a common quandary — and what happens to the wetland also depends on this. Asia’s largest freshwater oxbow lake, the Kanwar lake in Bihar, has shrunk to one-third of its size due to encroachment, much like Jammu and Kashmir’s Dal lake. Water sources like streams, which go into lakes, also get cut off, as is the case of lakes in Bengaluru and streams in the Delhi Ridge. The political pressure to usurp water and wetlands as land is high — and for this reason, States have failed to secure perimeters and catchment areas or notify wetlands.

Why then do the Draft Wetland Rules award full authority to the States? The particularly complex case of wetlands warrants more checks and balances. In the proposed scenario, with an absence of scientific criteria for identifying wetlands, it is imperative to have a second independent functioning authority.

What comprises a wetland is an important question that the Draft Rules leave unanswered. Historically, as wetlands did not earn revenue, they were marked as ‘wastelands’. While the Wetland Atlas of India says the country has 1,88,470 inland wetlands, the actual number may be much more: U.P. itself has more than one lakh wetlands, mostly unidentified by the government.

Significantly, the 2010 rules outline criteria for wetland identification including genetic diversity, outstanding natural beauty, wildlife habitats, corals, coral reefs, mangroves, heritage areas, and so on. These criteria would refer to wetlands like Pulicat in Andhra Pradesh which have nearly 200 varieties of fish.

The Ramsar Convention rules are the loftiest form of wetland identification that the world follows. Ramsar has specific criteria for choosing a wetland as a Ramsar site, which distinguishes it as possessing ‘international importance’. An important distinguishing marker is that Ramsar wetlands should support significant populations of birds, fish, or other non-avian animals. This means that it is ecological functioning which distinguishes a wetland from, say, a tank, which is just a source of water. However, man-made tanks or sources of water can also evolve into wetlands. For instance, Kaliveli tank in Tamil Nadu, an important bird area, is fed by a system of tanks and man-made channels forming a large and vibrant landscape. A wetland is more than a source of water, or a means for water storage, though it is often reduced to only that. By removing ecological and other criteria for wetland identification and protection, and the examples of activities that could hamper this physical functioning, the new draft underlines the same malaise which misses the wetlands for the water.

Use and non-use

While the new draft calls for sustainability, this is a difficult concept to enforce, particularly with regard to water. Regulation of activities on a wetland and their “thresholds” are to be left entirely to local or State functionaries. There are insufficient safeguards for the same, with the lack of any law-based scientific criteria or guidance. For instance, it is telling that regulation of activities in the draft rules do not make any obvious connection with existing groundwater legislations because these two aspects are still seen as separate.

The 2016 Draft Wetland Rules also call for wise use of wetlands. ‘Wise use’ is a concept used by the Ramsar Convention, and is open to interpretation. It could mean optimum use of resources for human purpose. It could mean not using a wetland so that we eventually strengthen future water security. It could also mean just leaving the wetland and its catchment area as is for flood control, carbon sequestration, and water recharge functions.

Finally, in a country which is both water-starved as well as seasonally water-rich, it is not just politics and use that should dictate how wetlands are treated. Sustainability cannot be reached without ecology. Towards this end, our wetland rules need to reinforce wetlands as more than open sources of water, and we need to revise how wetlands should be identified and conserved.

This first appeared in The Hindu op-ed