Winters are yet to approach. Really! This is exactly what Kuljeet Singh, bird watcher from Lajpat Nagar, was told when he asked, ‘Where are the birds in Okhla Bird Sanctuary (OBS)?’ It is almost mid-November but migratory birds are still not making OBS their first choice as winter home. Is it because of climate change or the late arrival of winter? One would really wonder. If you are thinking of taking a glimpse of migratory birds in national Capital, they are yet to arrive in adequate numbers.
Ishwar Chandr Singh, Range Officer OBS, tells Millennium Post, ‘So far we have recorded around 1500-1800 migratory birds with 10 species. The numbers are very less compared to last year which were much more with around 15 species by this time. Birds usually come from north Siberia and Southeast Asia, by the last week of October, but this time they are bit late due to late arrival of winter. This has been a common trend for most bird areas in Delhi.’
Species that have flown to Okhla Sanctuary are - Northern shoveler, common coot, common pochard, graylag goose, tufted duck, Eurasian wigeon, common teal, gadwall, ruff and great cormorant.
‘Black necked stork and Egyptian vulture are the most threatened species of our time. The Egyptian vulture can hardly be seen today. At least 15 more species have stopped their migration. Northern shovelers breed in Northern Europe and migrate in winter to Africa, North America, Southern Europe and South Asia. Common coots that are found in Northern Europe, North Asia, Australia and Africa migrate in winter through Continental Europe, across Sahara and to South Asia,’ says T K Roy, ecologist and environmentalist.
‘Due to global climate changes, the arrival of winter migratory birds has been little late this year. We also observed fewer species with huge downfall in number all over the country. Only 10 species of winter migratory water birds, three species of waders -Blacktailed godwit, ruff and pied arrived in the last week of September and seven species -Eurasian wigeon, common pochard, northern shoveller, tufted duck, gadwall, common teal, common coot reached in October,’ adds Roy.
Three year's AWC- Water birds by Wetlands International South Asia- data shows degrading bird
diversity with population in Okhla Bird Sanctuary: -
2012: Total population- 6,751 of which 57 water bird species
2013: Total population- 5,545 of which 63 water bird species
2014: Total population- 4,657 of which 46 water bird species
‘Climate change is happening across the world, it has its impact and late arrival of monsoon plays its role in migration of birds. However, it needs to be noted that Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary has little over 10,000 migratory birds and the Najaf Garh drain has somewhere close to 3,000 to 4,000 migratory birds. Then why is the Okhla Sanctuary, despite being one of the most favoured destination of migratory birds at one point, lagging behind in numbers,’ asks Nawin Tiwary, Research Scholar in Department of Environment Science, University of Delhi.
‘The condition of OBS has become as bad as it could be. Yamuna has two per cent of catchment area which lies in Delhi and it is the source of almost 80 per cent of total pollution in the river. Over 20 drains with over 20 million litres of sewage fall into the Yamuna every day. Large volumes of silt around the water body has actually decreased the water level. Migratory ducks which are considered to be deep divers, don’t feel comfortable staying in shallow water levels. We can hardly see ducks in OBS,’ adds Tiwary.
Every year the OBS authority used to take out water hyacinth much before October. However this year the process of cleaning hyacinth is not yet over which might create some more disturbances for coming birds.
‘To the best of my explanation Okhla Bird Sanctuary is ‘completely dead’ and what you are seeing is cumulative effects of what has been done to this zone over a period of four to five years. It all started from the construction of Rashtriya Dalit Prerna Sthal and Green Garden that is known by the name of Noida Memorial Park, constructed right at the eastern part of the sanctuary, that led to the deforestation of some 9,000 trees. If that was not enough to damage the birds habitat, the power grid made it even worse. High power wires pass right above the eastern border of the park that not only releases the micro waves and huge amount of magnetic energy, which impacts the birds around this, but also leads to thousands of trees being cut every year to prevent any kind of fire tragedy due to these wires,’ says Anand Arya, avid bird photographer and a very active Delhi birder.
OBS (Okhla Bird Sanctuary) comes under the irrigation department (ID) and recently it constructed a road right at the western side of the park, which goes right inside the park from Jamia Nagar, with the permission of Noida Authority which was instead taken for the patch-up of the bandh.
Construction of almost two lane kachha road, in the first week of October, has now allowed hundreds of vehicles to pass through the sanctuary. The movement of vehicles has also contributed to sound pollution within the park. Constructing anything inside the park is violation of the Wildlife Protection Act.
Okhla Bird Sanctuary has now also become more vulnerable due to the trespassers who in order to make their way short, pass through the bird habitat. Thousands of vehicles are moving through the sanctuary every day to avoid the traffic outside. Local residents are not letting the irrigation department to erect fences. People of Jamia Nagar and Canal colony are at the forefront of stopping the creation of fences as they push their hundreds of buffaloes & cattles to graze inside the sanctuary.
The bird sanctuary is an election issue too. Believe it or not, but local MLA, Asif Mohammad Khan allegedly stopped the fencing work, at the western border of the park with the help of local people who were afraid of not getting easy access to the sanctuary. As per the forest official, who spoke to Millennium Post on the condition of anonymity, says people have broken the fences many times in the past and recently when the irrigation department decided to construct a concrete wall up to 3 feet tall, people from nearby villages objected to it.
The irrigation department approached the Jamia Nagar Police Station where sitting MLA from the Congress party Asif Mohammad Khan appeared for local people and asked for the stay until elections are held in Delhi. OBS officials were told by police, ‘ We wont’t allow this to become another Trilok Puri, you need to wait till elections are over.’
‘This is a national phenomenon and people never think of wild life protection and are least bothered about their future. Similarly what is happening at the western part of the sanctuary in Okhla is not conducive for the birds habitat. We are committed to the protection of migratory birds and we will complete the fences very soon, says Krishna Kumar Singh, IFS, Divisional Forest Officer.
K K Singh admits that letting the power grid to pass high tension wires through the sanctuary was actually a miscalculated decision that should not have been taken. But what can be done now?
The sanctuary is experiencing a huge amount of noise from vehicles moving alongside Kalindi Kunj to Sarita Vihar. This road can be seen full of trucks right from evening till morning around 7 am. This has been disturbing the birds in the park.
If one goes right inside to the north end of the sanctuary near a temple, constituted at the border of the north-east, one could see hundreds of buffaloes coming out of water. These buffalos enter the sanctuary from the nearby villages and rest here inside the water for the whole day. Forest official says, ‘That we have stopped few of them, however local people are powerful and we cannot confront them.’
Nikhil, president of Delhi Bird Watching Society, suspects whether the Uttar Pradesh government wants to protect this sanctuary anymore or not? He says many bird watchers have stopped visiting this place. Numbers of migratory birds are declining as also the species. The whole sanctuary is now under threat due to multiple disturbing factors. We may have census of migratory birds in mid January but numbers, as of date, in OBS is far less than expected. If it continues we may see no birds in the sanctuary in years to come.
It may be a subject of debate weather birds have changed their migratory pattern due to monsoon or climate change, however, the man made issues can’t be overlooked anymore. In the best interest of wildlife protection, concerned authorities should wake up and come up with an urgent action plan to bring back the lost glory of this wonderful Okhla Bird sanctuary that has been fading.