NOIDA: The Okhla bird Sanctury is often called an accidental sanctuary, a safe haven created by migratory birds for themselves on the Yamuna. Spread over an area of just 3.5 sq km, the sanctuary attracts over 320 species of birds every year.
The marshland that borders it has been a favorite haunt for birdwatchers ever since the construction of Agra Canal in 1874. Major General HPW Hutson recorded the birds of Okhla during his ornithological surveys between June 1943 and May 1945. Following the construction of a barrage and the formation of a lake in 1986, bird-watching activities increased greatly at the site, which was declared a protected area in 1990 under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
However, increasing pollution in the Yamuna over the years and the shrinking marshlands and water areas has led to a fall in the number of avian visitors to the sanctuary. Since the water body comes under the ambit of the department of irrigation, upkeep and maintenance of the area is not under the control of the forest department. We have little control over the upkeep of the water body, said IC Singh, the forest ranger at the sanctuary.
Rakesh Khatri, an environmentalist actively involved in conservation work at the bird park, said,The sanctuary has become a den for students and visitors to spend their time, but the water has become so polluted that even the fish in it could be toxic. There is an urgent need for pollution control to conserve the sanctuary.
Construction activities in the eco-sensitive zone have already caused much harm to the sanctuary, say activists. A large stretch from the Noida side is lined by the Dalit Park, which was built in 2008. It was created by deforestation of the sanctuary. When environmentalists moved the Supreme Court, the construction was stopped at a certain level of expansion and they were asked to develop 60% greenery in the park, said TK Roy, an ecologist and environmentalist.
There is an urgent need to stop abuse of the water body to reduce pollution, Roy added. Cattle graze here regularly and even cremation of bodies takes place on the river bank. This needs to be stopped immediately he said.
A polluted river, effluent-spewing industries nearby, a high-tension power grid running through the park and waste strewn all over, the Okhla Bird Sanctuary of today is a far cry from HPW Hutson bird paradise.