Monday, August 7, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

War on against water hyacinth
From Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

HARIKE (Amritsar), Aug 6 — After flushing out Pakistan-sponsored terrorists from Kargil, the Army has declared yet another war. This time the battle is being waged not with gunfire but with the help of fibre glass boats, tractors with twin motorised winches and other equipment to weed out water hyacinth that has invaded the Harike wetland here.

Water hyacinth is a deceptive ornamental plant with beautiful purple flowers and green leaves. Sometime in 1884, a traveller imported this plant from South America into his garden. It escaped and infested the waterways and now ranks as the world’s worst aquatic weed. While the world struggles to find a solution to the problem, a beginning has been made at the Harike wetland in collaboration with the Punjab Government and NGOs.

The Harike is one of the six wetlands designated under the Ramsar convention, popularly known as ‘Ramsar site’. Today, the wetland is virtually dying a slow death due to dwindling heronry, weed infestation, pollution and silt. The lake over the years has been reduced from 41 sq km to 28 sq km with 80 per cent of the water surface covered with hyacinth.

The wetland came into being in 1952 as a result of the construction of a barrage at the confluence of the Beas And Sutlej for providing drinking and irrigation waters to people of southern Punjab and Rajasthan. In 1992, it was declared a sanctuary covering an area of 86 km, including 41 km of water. Harike today is facing an ecological crisis and some estimates give it a lifespan of less than 80. Over the years, an increase in agriculture activities in catchment areas has resulted in the deterioration of the wetland.

Though, the Army, in collaboration with the Punjab Government has been weeding out the hyacinth from Harike, yet illegal hunting, fishing and flow of industrial and agriculture waste into the Sutlej and Beas has been posing a grave threat to the wetland.

Though the Vajra Corps launched “Operation ‘Sahyog’ “ some time back to force the Harike wetland of hyacinth, the Governor of Punjab, Mr JFR Jacob, formally flagged off the operation today.

This pilot project will be implemented over a period of six months in two phases. After the end of the first phase in November, the second would be started in March next year so as not to disturb the migratory birds. Mr Jacob applauded the role of the Army and the Punjab Government in keeping the environment clean. Taking advantage of the wind and the water current, the Army has been able to keep clear a substantial amount of hyacinth from the Harike lake which is spread in an area of 41 km.

Now a 8-10 sq km stretch teams of the lake is being cleared by terms of 60 soldiers with the help of a motorised winch, dumpers, tractors and outboard motors.

Innovative methods have been evolved by the Army for removal and control of the water hyacinth.

In his inaugural address, Lieut-Gen Kamal Davar, GOC, Vajra Corps, said the pilot project was an extension of “Operation Sahyog” launched two years ago by the Vajra Corps to reach out to the people of Punjab. Speaking on the occasion, Gen-Gen Vijay Oberoi, GOC-in-C, Western Command, lauded the efforts of the Government of Punjab and thanked Mr Parkash Singh Badal for collaborating with the Army for the environmental cause.

Baba Madho Singh of Gurdwara Shri Isherdham Nanaksar has also made laudable contribution towards restoration of the Harike wetland. He has had installed a belt conveyor system for removal of the weed growing close to the banks.

The Army will also undertake the difficult task of planting trees on islands under a thick growth of Sarkanda 10-15 feet high.

On the other hand, the Irrigation and Power Research Institute (IPRI) has been endeavouring to destroy Water hyacinth through biological methods. The IPRI had earlier released 46,000 weevils for biological control of this killer weed. In the past two months, it has released an additional 58,000 weevils upstream of tributaries.

It will release another one lakh weevils in the next four months.

Mr Rajan Kashyap, Principal Secretary, Science and Technology, says this will ensure that no water hyacinth, once the weevils become effective, will flow from upstream sources into the wetland.

Later, addressing a press conference, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, Chief Minister, claimed that the World Bank had not yet shelved its Rs 48 crore project for restoration of wetlands in Punjab. He hoped the project which was held in abeyance would be cleared shortly. He said his government would give priority to conserving wetlands.

The Government of Punjab had constituted steering committee for conservation and management of Harike, Kanjli and Ropar wetlands, he said.

Apart from Harike, India had five more ‘Ramsar sites’ — Chilka Lake (Orissa), Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur, and Sambhar Lake (Rajasthan), Wular Lake (Kashmir) and Loktak Lake (Manipur).

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