It stoutly opposes Gujarat Forest Department proposal to divert land

The Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBW) has put its foot down against the laying of a road across the Kutch desert sanctuary — the largest breeding ground of flamingos in the entire Indian subcontinent — following a site report by an experts panel that the construction would wipe out the population of the already endangered bird.

October 31 was not the first time that a chunk of the committee put up strong resistance to the July 2009 proposal of the Gujarat Forest Department to divert nearly 80 hectares of forest land from what is famously known as Flamingo City for laying the road.

Environmental experts see an attempt to develop tourism in the eco-sensitive belt though officially the purpose is to make movement of the Border Security Force easier in the region that falls on Indo-Pakistan border.

The site inspection committee, appointed by the NBW, states in its report, a copy of which is with The Hindu, there is an alternative route for the BSF — which is already in use — and also recommends a cheaper all-weather road for the purpose.

The inspection was done by three Standing Committee members — M.K. Ranjitsinh, Divyabhanusinh Chavda and Asad Rahmani.

Referring to a particular long stretch, to which the experts have a serious objection, the report says: “This is the only breeding ground of Lesser and Greater flamingos in the Indian subcontinent and is one of the main reasons for the creation of the Kutch Wildlife Sanctuary, to start with. Due to the presence of flamingo breeding areas, this sanctuary was identified as an important bird area by the Bombay Natural History Society and BirdLife International.”

Environmentalists also point to the existence of a unique mangrove grove at Shravan Kavadia. In fact, according to the experts panel, “it is the only such site in the world, away and cut off from the sea. Amazingly, the Aviccnnia mangroves stand high in a cluster, resembling banyan trees in height and are dependent on underground supply of saline water, which in turn is dependent on the annual influx from the sea, and this would be unquestionably affected if the proposed road is built.”

It is because of the uncanny uniqueness of the location that flamingos remain faithful to Flamingo City. “This is attributed to the peculiar conditions of a saline desert inundated by rains to form a shallow, salty lagoon, making breeding conditions. Successful breeding is essentially a consequence of the dynamic flow of water,” Prerna Bindra, environmentalist and NBW Standing Committee member, told The Hindu.

“There is an influx of fresh water from the Luni river in Rajasthan, and also from northern Gujarat and Pakistan. And the saline water provides a rich flow of nutrients in which micro-organisms, crustaceans, algae and fish thrive, making for a breeding ground of not just flamingos but also rosy pelicans, avocets and a host of other birds.”

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