|Saturday, March 31, 2001||
Till about a year back, Harike was as good as dead. Water hyacinth had spread wildly all over this wetland and siltation had become a major problem. Migratory birds, its major attraction, had almost deserted this picturesque site. It was feared that this "lung" of the region would soon collapse. Then the state government requested the Army to step in. Operation Sahyog was launched by Vajra Corps in August 1999. Working with great zeal, the Army not only rid the lake of the menace of water hyacinth but also restored its old glory. Today, Harike smiles back at the world, says Reeta Sharma
IGNORANCE IS NOT always bliss,
especially if the price for it is to be borne by everyone around. So if a
few ignorant industrialists get rid of their toxic effluents in a nearby
water body, others prey on the wildlife or encroach upon " nature’s
reserve", the price we will end up paying will be monumental.
Wildlife researchers counted over 20 ducks and over 210 avian species in this area. This prompted the Harike Wetland’s designation as a bird sanctuary in 1982. But the acquiring of this ‘name-plate’ did not help Harike’s cause.
For the next 12 years, birds at Harike had strange persons giving them company in the silent surroundings. During this period, terrorists took shelter in the deserted Harike areas. The state government, in turn, had a ready excuse to close its eyes to Harike and its legitimate dwellers.
However, the Ramsar Convention of 1990 declared Harike as the Wetland of
International Importance. At that Convention, in an intra-government treaty,
various countries agreed to cooperate in the conservation of wetland
Wetlands are extremely essential not only for hydrological and ecological processes but also because they support rich fauna and flora. Their identification at the international level is done after considering the ecological, botanical, zoological and hydrological criteria. Hence, Harike’s selection in this category should have generated a spontaneous and duty-bound response from the bureaucrats who were heading the related departments from 1982 onwards.
Even if one was to exclude the insurgency period, the role of bureaucrats posted in the Forest and Wild Life Preservation department from 1991 is dismal. At least 12 senior IAS officers headed this department from 1991 to 2000. None took any note of the fact that Harike had been declared an internationally important bird sanctuary. The end result was the terrible devastation of Harike’s fauna and flora. The dwindling wetland has the following picture to offer:
The ecological crisis of
Harike has reached such a stage that environment experts now estimate its
lifespan to be less than 80 years. The lake is virtually a receptacle of
domestic, agricultural and industrial waste, which flows in
The most alarming threat to
Harike is from water hyacinth. Interestingly, the Punjab government only
recently woke up from its slumber and realised that
The Army took up this joint venture, Pilot Project Sahyog, as a challenge from day one. Lt-Gen. Kamal Daver, General Officer Commanding of the Vajra Corps assigned this job to Maj-Gen Lalit Tiwari, who was General Officer Commanding of the Golden Arrow Division stationed at Ferozepore. Gen. Tiwari went about the project meticulously. Not only did his men went about cleaning the lake of hyacinth on a war- footing, but his team also worked along with him on the Internet with every organisation involved in nature conservation to collect information and prepare a data base giving a wider perspective to the Harike project.
Maj.Gen Lalit Tiwari is a person obsessed with environment and nature. Recalling the operation, he says, "Initially, we were inspired by Lt.Gen. Vijay Oberoi, PVSM, AVSM, VSM. After his departure, on being appointed as the Vice-Chief of the Indian Army, Lt.Gen. Surjit Singh, PVSM, VSM, our new GOC-in-C of the Western Command took to the Harike project as a fish would take to water. We received enormous encouragement and we went about the project as our duty towards the nation."
He put his engineers on the challenging job of improvising high-tech machinery available abroad for the removal of hyacinth into cost-effective indigenous machinery. "Through a number of innovative methods, we succeeded in making dynamic booms, and winches etc. After the operation, we have placed static and dynamic booms at strategic points in the Harike Lake to hold back the floating mats of water hyacinth so that it doesn’t spread. At the end of six months of untiring labour by our team, we had opened four channels, which had got choked with silt over the years. We also planted 750 saplings of plants of two years of age on the island for birds to nest and roost in future."
AN UNPRECEDENTED move, the Punjab Council of Ministers has transferred 104 kanals
and 16 marlas worth crores belonging to the state irrigation
department to a gurdwara at Harike at a throw away price of Rs 10,000 per
However, it is claimed that the presence of the gurdwara has enabled many people in the adjoining villages to give up drugs and intoxicants and adopt a religious way of life.
The gurdwara is actually built in the village Talwandi Nepalan. The land was previously with the department of Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary (Forests). In November 1999, through a government gazette notification the land (106 kanals and 16 marlas) under the occupation of the gurdwara was taken out of the purview of the ownership of the Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary department. One of the conditions put on the transfer of the land to the gurdwara is that it will be the responsibility of the gurdwara management to seek clearance of the same from the ministry of environment and forests. Thus, the ball is now in the court of the said ministry, which is already in confrontation with the state government over the Anandgarh project as well as this gurdwara. Besides the notified land, the gurdwara management is also accused of having bulldozed more than one sq.km of land, which had housed rare birds and other species for over 50 years. This area is adjoining the gate of the gurdwara. The state government has asked the Deputy Commissioner of Ferozepore to inquire into the alleged encroachment of land by the gurdwara management. Meanwhile, it may be mentioned here that the gurdwara management had joined hands with the Army and done kar sewa to remove water hyacinth from the lake
Photos: Surkhab Shaukin