Bird sanctuary is rather a delicate thing to maintain because the birds are very sensitive to environs, ecology and the type of feed they select. There are two types of bird sanctuaries, permanent and seasonal. Both need maintenance of high order. The seasonal sanctuaries are witness to new species almost every season besides the old ones that are familiar to the localities where these sanctuaries are available. There are a few places in Northern India with bird sanctuaries and these are usually natural not man-made. Our State, too, has the privilege to be a home to a variety of birds as seasonal sanctuaries.
Birds land at known wetlands where Aquarian food is available to them especially the small size fish. The wetlands are well suited for providing the special feed. The Hokarsar wetland in Kashmir at a distance of about 20 kms from Srinagar and Gharana wetland 35 kms from Jammu in RS Pura close to the border with Pakistan are among the old and well-known wetlands where birds come as winter visitors. Bird watchers say that the birds of various species that are the annual visitors to Gharana Wetland come from Siberia in Russia and from Central Asia. They come to spend two months of harsh winter in their places of origin where food becomes scarce. It is reported that they fly along a chosen route year after year and they land at one or two halting stations in between the long flight from Siberia to India. For how many generations have these birds been coming to Gharana wetland for winter vacation is not known to anybody but the locals in the area in RS Pura say that they have been hearing from their fathers and grand-fathers that these birds have been visiting from unknown times.
But the sad aspect of this story is that we have not been able to maintain the purity and environmental security to the Gharana wetland, which, at one point of time, is said to have been about 200 acres huge lake-like wetland but now reduced to a filthy and polluted 0.75 square km area on which about 5,000 birds sit. Local people say that at a time when the wetland was of original dimensions and without pollutions nearly 25,000 birds of different species visited it annually and this made a spectacular sight for the people and visitors. This wetland has shrunk enormously and the problems of degradation of wetlands from pollution, encroachment, groundwater withdrawals, improper drainage and other actions have contributed to its degradation. In case, necessary steps are not taken to secure the Gharana wetland from these debilities, it may soon dry up and not a single bird will be its visitor.
At present neither the Government nor the philanthropic organizations including the civil society are doing anything to preserve this unique wetland in its pristine purity so that the number of visiting birds would increase year after year. It has to be understood that the birds that flock in groups are of different species like Siberian Cranes, Keel, Grey Heron, Common Teal, Little Grebe, Northern Pintail, Ruddy, Grey Key Goose, Shoveler, Marchland, Gadwall and even Kingfisher. Most of these birds come from Central Asia and Northern Europe. However, Bar Headed Geese some of whom have been radio collared remain major attraction.
The area was designated as wetland way back in 1982 and also Important Bird Area (IBA) but the Wildlife Department has not taken it over formally as yet. Neither the Wildlife Department nor the Department of Tourism is evincing any extraordinary interest in preserving the sanctuary along scientific lines. Even the approach road is muddy and dusty and the traffic on the kacha road is a sort of disturbance to the birds. Members of the ‘Moments Club’, a Delhi-based organization paid a few visits to the wetland and after observing the habits of the birds there did submit a report of how the sanctuary could be conserved for the birds but nothing has been done on official level so far. Locals are not interested because they don’t find the bird bringing them any concrete benefit. But it is actually a part of National Heritage and ought to have been maintained like that. Department of Tourism could and should take keen interest in seeing to it that this wetland becomes a visiting spot at least during two months of winter. We hope that both of these departments will jointly draw a scheme of preserving the Gharana Wetland and get it approved from proper authority.