Only puddles left in Keoladeo
Except 2008, the Keoladeo national park in Rajasthan has been receiving little or no water for the past six years. A seasonal breach of a dam upstream was the source of the water till 2003, the year the breach was repaired. Nobody at the time thought of the repercussions on the park.
This year does not promise to be different. Plans in 2006 to divert floodwater to the park from a drain called Govardhan have not been implemented. Now, the 1,100 hectare wetland, which hosts local and migratory water birds, might lose its unesco heritage status. It is also possible the UN body puts the park in its danger list because of the decline in the bird population.
To not let that happen, in 2006 a former official of the state’s irrigation department floated a plan: tap floodwater of Govardhan drain, about 15 km from the park, through an underground pipe to prevent any diversion en route. The department then studied how feasible it was to tap 10 billion litres of water. The project was to finish in March last year; it did not begin for lack of funds. The problem was resolved in January 2009—the Centre sanctioned Rs 56.2 crore for the project. Since the park is the gateway to tourism in Rajasthan, restoration needed to be fast-tracked, said Indrani Chandrashekharan, advisor to the Planning Commission.
Then clearance was needed from railway authorities since part of the pipeline would be passing under a railway track. All that is over now, said Jagdish Verma, engineer with the state water resources department. Work should begin in February and completed in six months, he promised.
The state government has also taken some measures to ensure water supply to the park. It improved water channels from the Ajan bundh to the park (see map). The bundh is 100 km from Panchana dam, breaches in which had allowed water to flow to the bundh and from there to the park. “Year before last—2008—water was not released at Panchana. But a good monsoon in the 100 km catchment was enough to meet the park’s requirements,” said K R Anoop, the park director. “But we cannot just depend on rainfall,” he added.
The state established a channel from the Chiksana canal in the southeast corner of the park. This should provide a fifth of the park’s water requirement. An ongoing drinking water supply project for Bharatpur town, to tap water from the river Chambal, also earmarked an annual supply of about two billion litres to the park. This water though will not contain nutrients or aquatic organisms, said Harsh Vardhan, ornithologist who frequents the park.
The state’s fisheries department hopes water from Govardhan drain and the Chiksana canal would provide nutrients and food for water birds in the park. There is a last resort; the ecology of the wetland could be restored somewhat with effort, said Vinod Mathur of Wildlife Institute of India in Dehradun.
Not convinced of the Govardhan drain plan, R C Trivedi, former additional director of the Central Pollution Control Board, said diverting water from other catchments is not a permanent solution. “Agriculture uses 75 per cent of the water in the region,” noted Trivedi during his last visit in August 2009. Planting water intensive crops like paddy should be discouraged, he added.
Plans need to be expedited. Or else, said Mathur, losing the unesco heritage status would be a national shame.