Basai wetlands: An oasis in the heart of a concrete jungle

Environmentalists and enthusiasts seek protection for Gurugram’s ‘bird paradise’ before it is too late

Updated - February 07, 2022 07:00 pm IST

Published - February 07, 2022 01:31 am IST

More than an address for fancy high-rise apartments, Sector 101 of Gurugram is a place of ecological importance. It is for the residents — and the authorities — to fathom the critical role the Basai wetlands here plays for nature and for people.

At a stone’s throw from the glitzy malls of the Millennium City, the 250-acre shallow wetland has shrunk to a quarter of its original size over the years. Home to 300-plus species of rare, common and migratory birds, Basai is recognised as a key biodiversity area by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Wildlife Institute of India and the BirdLife International, a global network of NGOs that work to protect bird habitats.

But for the town planners, urbanisation is out of sync with environment and the Haryana government is yet to declare the site a protected refuge for birds.

Given the accelerated expansion of the city of the future, the wetland continues to disappear under newly laid roads, modern housing constructions and other infrastructure development. An upcoming expressway, cutting through the terrain here, has majorly impacted the flyway of thousands of migratory birds from Europe and Central Asia.

Till a decade ago, the Basai wetlands was a top birdwatching destination where the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) had documented 281 species of avian population. But the number of species has steadily declined with each passing year, according to Pankaj Gupta of Delhi Bird Foundation.

He led a few citizens the legal way to the National Green Tribunal when the installation of a construction and demolition waste processing and recycling plant added to the mess. But it continues to spew cement dust and gradually choke the area.

Gajinder Bains has been bird watching at Basai since 1980s. He mentors amateur birdwatchers now and was at the site three months ago for the annual count. “Both species and population of birds have dwindled but they are still coming in hopeful numbers; the birding area has so far managed to co-exist with the ongoing destruction and pressures on the land,” he told The Hindu. “But we need to prevent further encroachment with immediate action if we want to save Gurugram’s bird paradise,” he asserted.

‘Lack of awareness’

“The problem is lack of awareness about the history and importance of wetlands among the people. The marshy wilderness is seen as wasteland to be dumped with garbage,” said Neha Dara of Roundglass Sustain, an initiative of like-minded individuals creating awareness about India’s biodiversity.

Ultimately, it would be to the peril of the residents when the threat of water scarcity, receding groundwater table, flash flo ods during heavy rains and the sight of depleting greenery from their high-rise windows turn into a bitter reality.

In an attempt to sensitise the local residents and build a citizens’ movement, film and TV director-producer Chandramouli Basu made a short film — Why We Must Save Basai’s Bird Paradise . Released in time to mark the World Wetlands Day on February 2, the six-minute film highlights the need to value Basai’s waterbodies.

Mr. Basu made more than three dozen trips during different seasons to the Basai wetlands last year. “I parked myself for hours at different vantage points during different times of the day to capture the beautiful winged visitors. Birders and wildlife photographers who came to the site shared with me how the vital ecosystem was slowly getting destroyed with increased construction activity all around,” he rued.

Compiling the annual sightings of individual birders, — the go-to repository of birds — has listed several varieties of birds, including the bar-headed goose, flamingos, grey-headed swamphen, cattle egret, black bittern, yellow-bellied prinia, grey-headed lapwing, watercock, white-rumped vulture, wood sandpiper, smoky warbler, water pipit, common crane, citrine wagtail and waders, spotted in Basai wetlands in 2020-21. Ornithologists note Basai shelters 60% of the total bird species seen in the National Capital Region.

“The Basai wetlands is like an oasis in the heart of a concrete jungle. We need a new appreciation of what wetlands provide to us if we want to reclaim the lost glory,” said Mr. Basu, whose film was commissioned by Roundglass Sustain.

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