Saturday, January 16, 1999
THE once cool and calm Sukhna lake is no more an inviting host for the winged guests who used to throng the water body during this particular time of the year. The multi-hued birds make their annual sojourn in large numbers to the City Beautiful when the Siberian region and Europe are enveloped in snow.
However, lately their number has been going down. This has happened mainly because of the disturbance created at the site by the city administration in the form of water sports and boating in the lake. The decrease in the number of migratory birds this time has made environmentalists and wildlife experts sit up and take notice. They are of the view that if immediate steps are not taken to preserve this "national wetland", the number of migratory birds may decrease further. The problem, according to them, seems to have arisen because of the Administrations effort to develop Sukhna as a tourist spot, ignoring the environmental aspect of the lake and its flora and and fauna.
The winged guests are mainly from the far-flung areas of Siberia, China and the European region. Sukhna used to be their most-liked spot during the peak winter season in their respective areas. The route adopted by these birds to enter the country is either via Srinagar or the Pakistan border. On the way, they cross Iran, Afghanistan and Kazakhistan. Ducks, which were earlier visiting the lake, have not yet arrived. Two particular species of migratory ducks-- Bremen and Mallard-- the domesticated form of ducks popularly known as wild ducks of Siberia, have not been seen this time. This is for the first time that these two species have failed to arrive at the lake.
Even the local migratory birds visiting the lake from the upper Himalayan ranges during snowfall have diverted towards the wetland on the Sutlej headworks in Ropar district. Cuckoos, which were here aplenty, have also apparently rejected the lake as their temporary refuge during the winter months.
"The trend is alarming and if the required atmosphere is not provided, migratory birds may bid adieu to the lake for- ever", says Krishan Singh Arya, a leading environmentalist of the area. According to him, these migratory birds are hyper sensitive and if they intuitively feel that the lakeside is not calm and has been polluted by noise and habitation, they would stop visiting this area. "They have already stopped visiting Chhatbir Zoo because of crowds at the zoo", says Arya.
"Thick habitation and construction of multi- storey buildings near the lake in areas like Mani Majra and Nayagaon have created flight obstructions for these birds, and as a result their number is reducing", says M. Chhibber, Principal Executive of ESF Projects, Punjab. The shramdan has further aggravated the situation as the lake-bed is deepened by it. These birds require shallow water patches which help them in getting their feed easily.
Chhibber has observed that during the last few years the birds find the upper end of Ghaggar river, alongside Chhatbir Zoo, or the riverside in Ropar a better place than the Sukhna lakeside.
For these birds, a peaceful environment is more important than even their feed. According to wildlife experts, they can go hungry but cannot tolerate noise and intrusion. Moreover, the regulator end of the lake is full of filth and the water is far from clean. Fish population has, therefore, been affected, especially towards the forest side of the lake where the water level is considerably reduced now.
"If the Punjab Government can ban fishing in Harike jheel to provide a peaceful environment to these birds, why cant the city Administration, in consultation with environmentalists, take steps to attract these birds, asks Arya. Earlier, there used to be functions to welcome migratory birds at the lake, but this time nothing has happened.
The major factors responsible for the decrease in the number of migratory birds are the rowing championships and regular boating by the visitors in the lake. The growing vehicular traffic alongside Sukhna is another reason for birds moving away from the lake, says Arya. A serious effort can also be made to regulate vehicular traffic at least on the back lane of Sukhna, which is not a regular route for vehicles anyway.
The Administration can also serve feed to these birds. Bharatpur and other bird sanctuaries have successfully experimented with wooden boxes filled with sea food which are floated in the shallow segments of the lake in order to attract birds during their visiting season. Moreover, the lakeside towards the jungle area and the regulator end should be kept peaceful and noise-free, says Chhibber. No mining and deep excavation should be permitted in this area so as to keep the water level shallow.
It is pertinent to mention here that besides the winter guests, even the local birds are leaving the city.
Environmentalists claim that the number of sparrows in the city have gone down drastically on account of the growing noise and air pollution levels. Most local birds have shifted base to adjoining villages, they say, and if urgent steps are not taken to increase the green cover and reduce noise levels, Chandigarh may well become like any other metro.
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