Though the rain gods were not very kind to the Bharatpur region this season even while rest of Rajasthan got a plentiful monsoon, the World Heritage site Keoladeo National Park got a new lease of life this weekend when the waters of the Panchna dam, some 100 km away in Karauli district, reached its historical swamps. An initiative from Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot helped the release of water, which of late had become a contentious issue with the farmers along the two sides of the dam refusing to spare any water for the flora and fauna.
The Park has been experiencing intermittent drought periods since 2000 and the number of tourists visiting the place annually has been on the decline due to near total lack of nesting and breeding activity. Even otherwise, the 29 sq. km. park, considered to be among one of the world's best bird sanctuaries, was shorn of some of its glory with the rare Siberian cranes not arriving any more in the late nineties due to suspected extinction of the flock flying to India from Siberia, via Turkmenistan, Afghanistan route.
During the time of the previous government, even after an announcement on the release of water from Panchna, farmers' opposition had forced the authorities not to go ahead. Many alternative plans — including one to bring water to the park from the Chambal river, a Chiksana Canal project and the Govardhan drain plan — were mooted but they could not either materialise or prove sufficient to quench the thirst of the park, which once was the duck shooting ground of the erstwhile Bharatpur rulers.
“The sluice gates of Panchna were opened on August 25 at 7-30 a.m. and the water reached the park here on this Saturday. There was jubilation all around. The naturalists, wildlife enthusiasts, tourist guides, rickshaw pullers and the locals were present in large numbers when the first gush of water made its entry into the park,” Anoop K.R., Field Director of KNP, told The Hindu. As if the arrival of water from Panchna, directed through the Ajan Bund in the territory of the park was some signal, the region had its first good rain that day.
“As the water was released last from Panchna in 2008 it took much effort to remove the obstacles on the way. The Collectors of both Karauli and Bharatpur were of great help and as the government showed a strong will, there seemed to be no resistance from anywhere,” Mr. Anoop noted. Altogether 600 mcft water was released from the dam and so far the park has got 400-450 mcft. “The park was totally dry. Moreover the parched lands along the 100 km route seemingly took their share,” he observed.
Keoladeo is known for its monsoon birds as the place normally turns an open aviary this time of the year with the cackle and hooting of breeding birds all around. However, the absence of the flowing water along with the lack of rains in Bharatpur and in the adjoining districts of Mathura and Agra in Uttar Pradesh had driven away the birds.
“Even the ones which started the nest building process abandoned their nests and left,” Mr. Anoop noted.