December 14, 2016 12:05:34 am
Even as Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal has declared open a “water bus” which will ferry tourists in the waters of Harike Wetlands, a Ramsar site recongised under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), bird-watchers and environmentalists have cautioned the government that this “tourism project” may prove disastrous for the migratory birds, their breeding and nesting.
Already, there is a problem of polluted waters from Buddha Nullah of Ludhiana flowing into the wetlands, besides extensive poaching.
Now, concerns are being raised over human pollution that will come along with this water bus, for instance tourists dumping plastic bottles, chips’ packets etc in the waters.
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Declaring it as completion of “his dream project”, the deputy CM on Monday inaugurated ‘Harike Water Cruise’, an amphibious bus which will carry tourists for four kilometres into the water. The bus has been acquired from Sweden and the project started with investment of Rs 10 crore. Tourists have to shell out Rs 800/ticket for the ride.
The importance of Harike Wetlands spread across 86 sq km at international level can be gauged from the fact that not only it is a Ramsar site (an international treaty for conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands) recognized by the UN, a research by Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (GADVASU) has proved presence of threatened dolphin species in it.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Sandeep Jain, member of Animal Welfare Board of India, Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), said, “Even if this bus is operated in a very small area as government is claiming, human interference is just not recommended at wetlands meant for conservation and breeding of birds. It is a complete infringement in the privacy of their nesting and breeding periods. In fact, some migratory birds come to Harike only to lay eggs and return with their offspring after two months. Any bus or boat, or whatever they call it, will produce noise disturbing the birds. Also, we do not have any stringent law to prevent tourists from dumping garbage in waters and soon it will be a dumping site. Can government stop human pollution where there are tourists?”
A research paper titled ‘Occurrence of Frehwater Dolphins in River Beas’ written by scientists from Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (GADVASU) says, “Biomonitoring field surveys were conducted in lower stretch of river Beas during different seasons at Harike Pattan. Six freshwater dolphins were encountered during visual observation during diligent monitoring survey.
The species is identified as Platanista gangetica minor (Indus river dolphin). As per IUCN Red list data, the species is recognized as threatened river dolphin. There is need of suitable conservation and management strategies to save their population.’’
Dr Prahlad Singh, one of the author scientists of this paper, said, “This water bus is not a feasible project and is serving no purpose. It is just to satiate a prestige issue that government can run a water bus. Harike Wetlands has been chosen for no reason. Wetlands meant for conservation of birds is no place to run water buses.”
Navdeep Sood, a wildlife ecologist and birdwatcher, said it was time for “responsible tourism”. “The two months of breeding period and migratory season should see controlled rides or no rides at all. In no case, authorities should allow tourists to spread pollution and carry eatables. Tourism is also required for funding but in a responsible way,” he said.
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