Bharatpur bird sanctuary may lose Unesco recognition


Agra/New Delhi : ndia’s famous Keoladeo National Park at Bharatpur in Rajasthan is facing de-recognition from the list of Unesco’s world heritage site after a two-member team of the world organisation pointed out the persistent water crisis in the sanctuary.

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The Unesco team Wednesday visited the sanctuary to take stock of the current situation. It interacted with the officials and local residents in Bharatpur to know about their views on the problems faced at the bird sanctuary.

The alarming water shortage in the sanctuary, not far from Agra, has already taken its toll on the turnout of the winged migratory visitors. The sanctuary was a favourite destination for a variety of rare birds from India and abroad.

Bird watchers from around the world visit here to watch the spectacular jamboree of rare birds such as Siberian cranes and ducks, pelicans, geese, shanks, wagtails, larks and pipits between October and February.

However, this was not the first time the Unesco has raised the alarm and warned the sanctuary officials with its de-recognition.

In the past, it had repeatedly warned the authorities about the deteriorating water situation, but the Rajasthan government failed to ensure adequate water supply – crucial to the survival of the rare flora and fauna here.

“One reason has been the poor rainfall in the last couple of years. The wetland and the ponds never got the full supplies during the monsoon,” said Gopal Pasricha, a bird watcher.

In response to a question on the issue by MP Ekanath K. Thakur in parliament, Minister of State in the Ministry of Environment and Forests S. Regupathy admitted in the Rajya Sabha Thursday that fewer birds had visited Keoladeo National Park in 2006-07 and 2007-08.

Regupathy said the Rajasthan government had “completed the Chiksana canal project, would draw 50-60 million cubic feet of flood water to the park during the monsoon.

“Two more projects, the Govardhan drain project and the Dholpur-Bharatpur Chambal drinking water project have also been prepared by the state government to mitigate the water scarcity in the park.

“To address the emergency situation, four new deep bore wells and two new shallow bore wells have been dug inside the park.”

But the construction of wells has not been of much help since birds prefer flowing water.

The Rajasthan government is now in the process of releasing water from the neighbouring Panchna dam for supply in the sanctuary.

In the past, on at least two occasions, farmers diverted the water meant for the sanctuary, for irrigating their fields, an official said on condition of anonymity.

This winter a large number of migratory birds bypassed Bharatpur and made Agra’s Keitham Lake their temporary home. The sprawling lake on the Agra-Delhi highway has plenty of aqua life and greenery to support the birds.

Now, known as the Keoladeo National Park, the Bharatpur bird sanctuary was earlier a duck hunting reserve of the erstwhile Maharajas. In 1960s, hunting was banned in the sanctuary. On March 10, 1982, it was declared a national park.

In December 1985, the Unesco declared it a World Heritage Site. Rare birds from as far as Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, China and Siberia visit the sanctuary during the winter months here.

About 364 species of birds have been recorded in the park.