Hygam Wetland needs special attention from the Govt having been declared as Ramsar site
SINCE the last two weeks, I have been eagerly waiting to visit Hygam Wetland Reserve near Sopore. A Srinagar based Environmental Police Group (EPG) and its offshoot Green Citizens Council (GCC) have been planning a visit since a long time now. Finally, this Sunday (November 27th 2022), around 15 member teams from EPG/GCC visited Hygam Wetland Reserve. Pertinently, Hygam wetland reserve was declared as Ramsar site this year in August along with Shalabugh wetland.
During our visit to Hygam wetland, we could not see migratory birds in the area. This is a matter of serious concern. Infact, some experts in the group like Dr Riyaz Qureshi from Tourism Studies Department of Kashmir University were of the opinion that even though there were still chances of birds visiting in the coming weeks in a more more foggy and cold weather but it was also likely that due to constant water pollution and illegal construction, the birds may not visit at all.
According to locals in Hygam, typically, the bird population in Hygam wetland used to be huge in November as compared to their non-existent count this season.
Migratory birds who visit Hygam all the way from central Asia , Russia and Eastern Europe and even China include Shovelers, White Gheese Red Crested Pochards, White Eyed Pochards, Common Teal Coots etc. That the team could not spot any of these birds is a matter of grave concern.
Akhtar Hussain, an environmental science student and a bird watcher from Sumbal, had an interesting story to narrate during the visit. He registered having watched birds wanting to land near Khurwan Sar weltland around November 19th and failing to do so. He had documented this curious observation in photos as well.
Akhtar believes that migratory birds could not recollect that this was their own habitat as the colour of water had changed due to pollution and topography of the land also having changed due to constant land encroachments. He added that construction of houses near wetlands and vehicular sound was preventing migratory birds from visiting their designated habitats .
Encroachments around Hygam wetland
Media has been highlighting the encroachments of Hygam wetlands quite robustly . In the last few years, many reports were carried by local English dailies about choking this wetland. Yet, authorities at the helm have been unable to stop the land encroachment especially around Hygam which has been continuing for the past few decades. During our visit, we could see demarcated wetland areas having been converted into paddy fields. Infact, few apple orchards were also developed on Hygam wetland around its North Western shore.
The Hygam Wetland Reserve is spread over an area of around 1400 hectares of land mass but in villages like Hygam, Haritar, Lolpora, Gohul, Tengpora and Goshbug many encroachments have been seen.
Several residential houses , cattle sheds , and bathrooms have been constructed in addition to growing paddy and apples on the hundreds of kanals of wetland area. Local citizens told the visiting EPG delegation that around 80 plus illegal constructions have come up on the Hygam wetland in the last few years while hundreds of kanals of land has been converted for paddy cultivation.
Although there are several FIRs registered in local police stations , Police and Revenue Department officials are not taking steps to evict the encroachers. Infact, the Wildlife Department tried to undertake an eviction drive in the Hygam wetland area last year in June but the encroachers attacked the wildlife officials and even injured some of them.
Central Auqaf Committee Tarzoo
The Central Auqaf Committee Tarzoo Sopore under the guidance of its patron Ajaz Ahmad Dar and other members has been actively working for conservation of environment in the area.
The special focus of this committee is on wetland conservation as the entire Tarzoo ,Darnambal , Hygam, Ninglee has huge wetlands which are in fact in the Wullar catchment area as well.
The Central Auqaf Committee Tarzoo is the first kind of religious organisation in Kashmir which is concerned about environmental conservation and sustainable development. The Central Auqaf Committee during the last 3 years has organised almost a dozen workshops , conferences on wetland conservation. They have filed a petition before J&K High Court on unscientific garbage disposal near Niglee wetland area through Advocate Shafqat Nazir, legal advisor of EPG. The High Court gave a landmark judgement and the then Chief Justice Geeta Mittal personally visited the site in Ninglee where municipal solid waste was being dumped by Municipal Council Sopore. The illegal work was later-on stopped. In Fact, I had also moved a petition before the National Green Tribunal on the request of the Central Auqaf Committee Tarzoo.
On April 10th 2021, the five village panchayats in the Tarzoo area on the guidance of the Central Auqaf Committee adopted a joint resolution by invoking section 5 of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006. The FRA empowers the Gram Sabha to protect the wildlife, forest, and biodiversity of the village and to ensure that adjoining catchment areas, water sources, and other ecologically sensitive areas are adequately protected. Through that resolution, the village panchayats asked the district administration Baramulla and Municipal Council, Sopore to stop dumping solid waste in the forest land which was a severe threat to the environment and biodiversity of the area. Pertinently after closure of the Ninglee dump site , District Administration Baramulla had chosen another site which was forest land and panchayat land. Now that site has also been shut down due to the efforts of Central Auqaf Committee Tarzoo Sopore.
The theme for the 2022 edition of World Wetlands Day which is celebrated on February 2nd every year is Wetlands Action for People and Nature . This theme highlights the importance of actions that ensure that wetlands are conserved and sustainably used. It is in fact an appeal to invest financial, human and political capital to save the world’s wetlands from disappearing and to restore those we have degraded. The wetlands in Kashmir are shrinking day by day. We have almost lost Hokersar , Anchar , Gilsar and Khushal Sar. Dal lake is on death bed and so is the Wullar lake. At a time when Hygam wetland has been declared a Ramsar site of international importance, it is the duty of the Govt to come to its rescue soon. Civil Society organisations , educational Institutions, Auqaf Committees around Hygam , Tarzoo , Sopore need to be sensitized about Hygam Wetland Reserve and other satellite wetlands of the area as well. School children should be mandatorily taken out for wetland walks by their teachers across Kashmir which will help them to know the importance of this important water ecosystem. Chief Secretary J&K Dr A K Mehta who is also the Chairperson of State Wetlands Authority should also intervene in this issue.
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