Birds flee winter home

Development work destroying wetlands, wildlife habitat in Bhopal

Published: Tuesday 29 February 2000

the Upper and Lower lakes and the Van Vihar national of Bhopal constitute the Bhoj wetlands. This region has been recognised by the ministry of environment and forests as a wetland of national importance, but today it finds itself in the centre of a controversy. For years this area has been an important habitat of the waterfowl besides being the winter home for a large number of migratory birds. Now the sound of heavy equipment is forcing the birds to seek new destinations.

During the past three winters the Society for Forest Conservation and Documentation of Bhopal has sighted 850-900 coots, 7 pairs of brown-headed gulls, a dozen open bellied storks, 7 painted storks and 7 pairs of white ibies. The Upper lake is a major source of water for Bhopal supplying 17 million gallons to the inhabitants. In fact till 1947 the water was used for consumption without being filtered. However, after the recognition accorded to the region the Madhya Pradesh government decided to conserve and manage the wetlands effectively. A project was thus executed -- allegedly without an environmental impact assessment -- to upgraded the lake water by desilting, deweeding, dredging, flushing, constructing of spill channels and coffer-dams. The work was jointly funded by India and Japan.

The work to build the dam began in winter in the prime habitat part of the 4.45 sq km park -- the only one of its kind in the country. Winters are considered extremely important periods in the life cycle of wild birds and animals. Normally during a ride -- safari style --around the park nilgai, cheetal, black buck, wild boar and peacocks can be sighted but the 24-hour construction activity has affected the movement of the wild animals.

Naturalists fear that, in addition to the departure of the birds, is the deteriorating health of the mammals and the disappearance of plants which assist in the purification of the lakes water.

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