Irrigation officials dried up the wetland for 15 days for the task, but ecologists claim the repairs are not needed every year
Noida’s Okhla Bird Sanctuary, considered a haven for various resident bird species and a stopover for thousands of migratory birds, had become uninhabitable for several species for the half of April 2019.
The Uttar Pradesh Irrigation and Flood Control Department, as part of a yearly exercise, dried up the wetland to repair barrage gates. That forced several water birds to leave the wildlife habitat in the middle of their breeding season.
The sanctuary had already been facing challenges like losing its biodiversity to human interference and climate change.
While irrigation officials maintained that they took requisite approvals for the work, the divisional forest officer of Gautam Buddh Nagar district said no permission was taken from the forest department and that he has sought a reply from the irrigation department on it.
P Shrivastava, superintendent engineer, Uttar Pradesh Irrigation Department, said, “Barrage gates require minor works like repairing leakages or slippage every time. This season is good for us as the water demand is low and cropping season is over. The work went on for 15 days.”
Ecologists point out that the frequent repairing of barrage gates by completely drying up the wetland is not required every year and that it is just another excuse to spend government money.
“Last year, many old gates were replaced with new ones. Even if they wanted to do minor repair, there is no need to completely dry the wetland. Some minimum water level can be maintained. This is a notified protected area under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Drying it every year for 15 days is a repeated damage and repair work is a vague excuse for that,” said ecologist TK Roy, who was also the Delhi coordinator for the Asian Waterbird Census, 2019.
More than 25 Indian Schedule Bird species, including four IUCN Red Listed Threatened species, have been affected by this. They have either left or have been kept away from the sanctuary due to drying conditions, said Roy.
He added that the department has been undertaking repair work since 2012 even when they do not need to. He argued that in contrast, the old Wazirabad barrage at the upstream Yamuna, which was constructed in 1892, does not need repeated repairs.
The department said it has now revived the wetland habitat on Monday. “It is understood that barrage gates need repair but it is being done whimsically,” he alleged.
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