In 2000, it took a military operation to halt the march of water hyacinth in Harike, one of the internationally protected wetlands in India, famous for a large number of birds, both local and migratory. The invasive hyacinth problem was squeezing the life out of its 41-square-metre area for some time. The Army took up the battle and formed a Harike Task Force to preserve the lake and till October 2000, when the project was suspended, it had cleared about 1,00,250 tonnes of water hyacinth from an eight-square-kilometre area, much more than the initial target. But the hyacinth resurfaces with a vengeance time and again and the Army certainly has more duties to perform than clean it up.
From what was a sprawling 41-square kilometre home to thousand of species, the Harike wetland has been reduced to a 28-square-kilometre virtual dumpsite for industrial waste of the Ludhiana industry.
Basantha Rajkumar, Divisional Forest Officer, Ferozepur, says the biggest threat to the wetland is pollution. according to a study by the PSCST, about 700 million litres of polluted water reaches Harike everyday. The action taken by the state government against the 26 polluting units listed by the PPCB, if any, seems to have stayed on paper alone.
But talking of it being a bright spot, it cannot be overlooked that the sanctuary, formed on the confluence of rivers Beas and Satluj, is connected with three districts, which include 12 villages of Ferozepur, eight of Tarn Taran and seven of Kapurthala, and boasts of 23 islands, covered with wild grass, which provide safe nestling places for birds.
It is the venue for winter sojourn of birds that arrive here after blankets of ice and snow cover Siberia. The winged guests spend three to four months and breed here. The rare birds spotted here include the cotton pygmy goose, tufted duck, brown and black headed gull, yellow-legged gull, Indian skimmer, white tern, hen harrier, Eurasian sparrow hawk, black-necked grebe, shrike and warbler besides Siberian cranes, white storks and painted storks.
The species of birds found here are around 360, besides eight species of turtles and 38 taxa of plants and numerous species of snakes and fish. The wetland is also home to the rare Indus Dolphin. It is an example of how community participation and international conventions, for instance the Ramsar Convention which has listed Harike as a wetland of international significance, can facilitate conservation.
In May last, a team of British environmental experts landed here. Led by J Blackney, the team comprising four members, conducted a survey of the bird sanctuary.
The team’s focus was to find out opportunities for international-level tourism here and a report has been submitted to the state government. Asian Development Bank also conducted a survey here recently and funding might be provided by them as well.