The problem arises as the size of the lake changes seasonally. The return of the birds was a shot in the arm of environmentalists.
The Forest Department officials have the formidable task of explaining to the public the boundary of Kolleru Lake, part of which has been declared as the nationally protected Kolleru Bird Sanctuary.
While the size of the lake/wetland according to the Ramsar Convention is 901 square km (all the land within contour 10+) the Central Government declared just 308 square km (within contour 5+) as a Wildlife Sanctuary. This huge variation is because the size of the lake changes seasonally.
The Lake that was formed due to the coalescence of the deltaic deposits of Krishna and Godavari rivers was later cut off from the sea. At its prime the inter-delta lake rose to contour 10+ during the monsoon and shrank to contour 3+ in the summer.
The advent of aquaculture ruined the lake. Satellite images taken in 2001 showed that approximately 42 per cent of the lake was occupied by aquaculture, while agriculture had encroached another 8.5 per cent. The area under aquaculture consisted of 1,050 fish ponds within the lake and 38 dried-up fish ponds, which together covered an area of 103 square km.
The Lake was declared as a wildlife sanctuary till contour 5+ in 1999. The State Government began demolition of aquaculture tanks as part of ‘Operation Kolleru’ in 2006. The birds which disappeared from the Lake began reappearing. The return of the birds was a shot in the arm of environmentalists. But, the thousands of families that settled in the lake earning a livelihood in the aquaculture farms lost their means of sustenance.
A demand was made to reduce the size of the sanctuary to contour 3+, very strongly, but was rejected by a committee of experts appointed by the Central Government. At regular intervals (every time a new District Collector was appointed) demands were also made to distribute 7,600 acres in and around Pillipadu, Nutchumilli and Takkellapadu villages in Kaikaluru and Mandavalli mandals to the poor.
The Forest Department officials are however, not relenting because they say the land in dispute is within contour 5+ and all land within it is protected under law. There may be small patches (islands) that are above contour 5+, but they too are protected under the law.
Krishna District Collector Buddha Prakash M. Jyothi, who took charge recently, has also been approached by people who have their eye on the 7,600 acres. The Collector reportedly asked the Forest officials to demarcate the disputed land to take the issue to its logical end and close it permanently.