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India to propose two new wetlands for Ramsar tag

Bar-headed geese from Siberia (Photo: Mrityunjoy Kumar Jha)

Last year India added 12 wetlands to the recognised sites of international importance under the treaty of Ramsar Convention. With 42 wetlands in its list, India has the highest numbers in South Asia and second in Asia after China.

This year India has decided to propose two more wetland sites in Haryana for the Ramsar tag—Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary near Gurgaon and Bhindawas Lake in Jhajjar. Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) of Haryana, VS Tanwar says: “We have completed the groundwork. The two wetlands are well protected sites. Migratory birds visit these wetlands every year. Besides that, the two wetlands have all the characteristics required for them to be declared as Ramsar sites. The state has only two wetlands. The proposal has been sent to the central government, which will further push it for consideration before the Ramsar Secretariat at Gland in Switzerland.”

Migratory birds at Sultanpur (Photo credit: Mrityunjoy K Jha)

At present, among Indian states, with eight such Ramsar tags wetlands, Uttar Pradesh is on the top of list.

The Ramsar list identifies wetlands around the world that are important for biological diversity and sustaining human life, and provides guidance on their management. This initiative is governed by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, an intergovernmental treaty that provides a framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation.

It was officially adopted on February 2, 1971 in the Iranian town of Ramsar. To mark this day, every year February 2nd is celebrated as World Wetlands Day. Also known as the Convention on Wetlands, it aims to develop a global network of wetlands for conservation of biological diversity and for sustaining human life.

Black tailed Godvit Hellow from Europe

(Black tailed Godvit Hellow from Europe. Photo credit: Mrityunjoy K Jha)

Wetlands have been identified by scientists to be vital for the survival of humanity. Among the world’s most productive environments, wetlands are seen as cradles of biological diversity. Wetlands are seen to be indispensable for the “ecosystem services” or benefits they provide to humanity, ranging from freshwater supply, food and building materials, and biodiversity, to flood control, groundwater recharge, and climate change mitigation.

Wetlands are a unique ecosystem; lands or areas which are filled with water permanently or seasonally. Almost 4.6 per cent of India's land area is wetlands, spanning 15.26 million hectares. There are various types of wetlands: swamps, rivers, lakes, backwaters, marshes, mangroves, etc. Some eco-sensitive zones are categorised as Ramsar sites in India. Namely, Sunderbans in West Bengal, Ashtamudi Lake in Kerala, Bhitarkanika Mangroves in Odisha, Keoladeo Ghana National Park in Bharatpur, Chilika Lake in Odisha are some of the popular wetlands in India.

Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary will be the first wetland site in the NCR to be tagged as a Ramsar site. Sultanpur is named after Rajput Chauhan Sultan Singh, descendant of Harsh Dev Chauhan; one of 21 sons of Raja Sangat Singh Chauhan, who founded Garhi Harsaru and established Dhundhoti. The area was a low lying marshy area which used to get inundated during monsoons. The collected brackish water attracted a large variety of animals and has aquatic plants which in turn attracted migratory and local birds.

Saras Crane pair at Sultanpur

(Saras Crane pair at Sultanpur. Photo credit: Mrityunjoy K Jha)

Earlier, this was a favourite hunting ground of the rich and famous around Delhi. The rulers of small principalities in the area excelled in the sport of waterfowl hunting. Dr Salim Ali, the doyen of Indian Ornithology is largely responsible for converting this hunting ground to a bird sanctuary. He was a frequent visitor to the site till his last days.

Thanks to his keen interest, Sultanpur was officially declared a Bird Sanctuary in 1971 and in 1983, it was turned into a National Park.

As the Park falls in the Central Asian Migratory Flyway, it teems with thousands of migratory birds in winter from Central Asia and the Western Palearctic region. Earlier studies revealed the existence of a significant number of avian species in the wetland areas of Haryana. Over the years it has become an ideal destination for birders, scientists, ornithologists and photographers,  this sanctuary is inhabited by nearly 250 species of Birds: Some of them are resident, while others come from regions such as Siberia, Europe and Afghanistan.

Resident birds at the sanctuary include; Common Hoopoe, Paddyfield Pipit, Purple Sunbird, Little Cormorant, Eurasian Thick-knee, Gray Francolin, Black Francolin, Indian Roller, White-throated Kingfisher, Spot billed Duck, Painted Stork, White Ibis, Black headed Ibis, Little Egret, Great Egret, Cattle Egret, India Crested Lark, Red vented Bulbul, Rose ringed Parakeet, Red wattled Lapwing, Shikra, Eurasian collared Dove, Red collared Dove, Laughing Dove, Spotted Owlet, Rock Pigeon, Magpie Robin, Greater Coucal, Weaver Bird, Bank Mynah, Common Mynah and Green Bee Eater and others.

Painted Stork with its chick - Happy parenting at Sultanpur. Photo credit: Mrityunjoy K Jha)

(A Painted Stork with chick at Sultanpur. Photo credit: Mrityunjoy K Jha)

This year, so far we have seen about 100 species of migratory birds  have arrived at Sultanpur in search of feeding grounds. Some of the migratory birds are Bar headed geese, Greylag geese,  Greater Flamingo, Ruff, Black winged Stilt, Common Teal, Common Greenshank, Northern Pintail, Yellow Wagtail, White Wagtail, Northern Shoveler, Rosy Pelican, Gadwall, Spotted Sandpiper, Eurasian Wigeon, Black tailed Godwit, Spotted Redshank, Bluethroat and others.

The Sultanpur-Najafgarh-Jhajjar corridor has become an ideal place for domestic and migratory birds. Sultanpur and Keoladeo Ghana sanctuary are known to be preferred destinations of Siberian cranes – a critically endangered species. They were last seen at these two parks in 2001. Dodging the bombings by US fighter jets, which tried to root out the erstwhile Taliban regime in October 2001, and after the 9/11 strikes in the US, the Siberian Cranes managed to reach India for the last time.

Presently, as per international estimates, there are barely 3,200 Siberian cranes left in the world, putting them alongside the most endangered species like the tiger. According to experts, besides the loss of natural habitat in most parts where they lived and bred, there were reports of hunting of these huge birds in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the recent past.

Spotted owlet, a resident of Sultanpur. Photo credit: Mrityunjoy K Jha

(Spotted owlet, a resident of Sultanpur. Photo credit: Mrityunjoy K Jha)

Last week, a dedicated Centre for Wetland Conservation and Management (CWCM) was set up under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, at the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM) in Chennai. This will address specific research needs and knowledge gaps to address wetlands and their management and bring capacity development and cutting-edge research to wetlands in India. It is also positioned to apply integrated approaches for conservation, management and wise use of India's 42 globally-significant 'Ramsar' wetland sites.