JAMMU: Hokersar lake in Kashmir, which attracts birds from various parts of the world including as far as Siberia, is facing a threat from massive encroachments and the state government is now drawing up plans to preserve the wetland.
Situated about 10 kms north of Srinagar, the Hokersar wetland comprises a lake and marshy area, spread over an area of more than 7.6 square kms.
It has been subjected to encroachment over 208.6 acres (1,669 Kanals) over the last 25 years.
"Everybody is involved in the encroachment of this wetland -- from officials to people and other people. They are to be blamed for it. But this government is committed to weed out the encroachments from this land," said Minister of State (MoS) for Forests Majid Paddar.
"We will not tolerate any encroachments of these water bodies," he said, about the menace which is threatening the existence of Hokersar.
Over three lakh migratory birds visit this wetland apart from Dal lake from as far away as Siberia, Europe, Turkey, China, Phillipines and Kazakhstan between September and April annually.
There are coots, greylag geese, mallards, teals, shovellers, pintails, gadwalls, wigeons, and purple moorhens in the reserve besides local birds. The cormorants and the sandhill cranes make a brief stopover in the Hokersar wetland and shift to Indian plains during intense cold weather conditions in Kashmir.
The encroached area has been calculated at 1,669 kanals and 3 marlas (208.6 acres) out of which 1,583 kanals and 3 marlas (198 Acres) is under paddy cultivation and 86 kanals (10.74 Acres) under settlement. The state government had put up the details before Jammu and Kashmir Assembly's House Committee for information and action.
The department of Wildlife Protection along with the committee of the Revenue officials, constituted by deputy Commissioner Baramulla, has completed the delineation and identification of encroachments on ground, he said.
The wetland reserves were notified as winter homes for migratory birds and declared protected in Kashmir in 1945 by the erstwhile Maharaja, Hari Singh, even though bird shooting as a sport was banned in Jammu and Kashmir only in 1995.
The shooting of migratory birds is prohibited but outside the reserve the poachers shoot these birds. The Wildlife department has no sufficient men power to deal with these poachers.
In view of the directions of the High Court with regards to protection of the wetland and in consonance with the directions, the process to prepare a comprehensive management plan addressing the issues has been started and is in progress, the minister said.
Meanwhile, in absence of a comprehensive management plan and non-availability of adequate funds, several measures have been taken by the department including 'chain-link' fencing to avert encroachment.
In order to augment and supplement measures to check encroachment and biotic interference, the trench work along the periphery at certain vulnerable points has been taken up and work on 1,500 ft has been executed.
The bunds are being raised at vulnerable points and places where breaches occur, the Minister said. Plantation of willow trees along the area would also be discussed and deliberated upon in the proposed draft Comprehensive Management Plan, Paddar said.
All the embankments and bunds of the wetland are being regularly maintained, repaired, and raised as and when required and all the breaches are being plugged every year in order to maintain requisite water level for birds, he added.