‘With the U.P irrigation department draining water from the Okhla barrage, migratory species like the Greater Flamingo that have already arrived for winter are now leaving’

The Uttar Pradesh (U.P.) Irrigation Department’s decision to release a large amount of water from the Okhla Barrage is drying up the Okhla Bird Sanctuary and impacting the arrival and survival of birds, ecologist and environmentalist T.K. Roy said.

Stating that four square kilometres of the notified sanctuary, located along the Yamuna river here, is a unique habitat for water birds, Mr. Roy has cautioned that the sanctuary is drying up because of the irrational release of water from the barrage nearby.

“The sanctuary is one of the International Bird Areas site in India as there is a rich bird species diversity. So far, more than 330 species of birds have been recorded here, including eight species of threatened birds, as per the International Union Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red-list category. During winter, it becomes a paradise as a large number of migratory water birds flock to the sanctuary,” Mr. Roy said.

Unfortunately since 2011, the sanctuary wetland has been drying up for a month every year during summer, as water from the Yamuna is released through the barrage in order to facilitate repair of its gates.

The U.P Irrigation Department has been, without any intimation or consent of the U.P Wildlife Department, simply releasing water from the gates, thereby degrading the habitat of the water birds in their breeding season. This is in gross disregard of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, Mr Roy said.

This year too, Mr. Roy said, the same exercise has been undertaken by the Irrigation Department.

“It has started drying up at a time when the arrival of winter migratory bird species from Central Asia, North Asia and other parts of the globe had just begun. This year the birds have started coming early due to climate changes and since last week, species of winter migratory water birds have been arriving.”

The migratory birds which have already come include the Graylag Goose, Northern Shoveler, Black-tailed Godwit, Pallas’s Gull, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper, Temmincks’ Stint, Ruff, Ruddy Shelduck, Pied Avocet, Eurasian Spoonbill, Brown-headed Gull, Black-headed Gull and Comb Duck.

Apart from this, Mr. Roy said some Greater Flamingo and River Lapwing have been staying at the sanctuary for the last 11 months.

“Since Saturday, the sanctuary is left with just a few ditches of water where a few Pied Avocet, Brown-headed Gull, Black-headed Gull and resident species such as Spotbill Duck, Black-winged Stilt, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Intermediate Egret, Little Cormorant and Painted Stork have gathered for survival,” he said.

Due to depleting water levels, he said, some of the migratory species, including the Greater Flamingo, have left the sanctuary.

“If degrading of the habitat continues, it will pose a big threat to the sanctuary which is expecting bigger flocks of other migratory duck species.”

Mr. Roy said while the National Green Tribunal has already passed two orders in favour of preserving the sanctuary – namely stopping all illegal constructions in a 10-km radius of the eco-sensitive zone and stopping hazardous emissions from the waste to energy plant in Delhi – it was high time that it also took note of how the Irrigation Department’s action was threatening its very existence.