Bird Conservation in Haryana - by Suresh C. Sharma
Introduction: Haryana has so far documented 410 species of birds (checklist of birds by Suresh C. Sharma & Bill Harvey). Though Haryana does not have any endemic species, out of the 129 species of threatened birds of India, 31 species are found in Haryana. Some of them even breed in the state. These are White-rumped Vulture (used to breed), Long-billed Vulture (used to breed), White-bellied Heron (sight record from Sultanpur), Greater Adjutant, Spot-billed Pelican (sight record from Sultanpur and Bhindawas), Lesser Adjutant (Bhambewa Lake), Lesser White-fronted Goose (Bhindawas), Marbled Teal, Baer's Pochard (Bhindawas), Greater Spotted Eagle, Imperial Eagle, Lesser Kestrel, Sarus Crane (breeds), Indian Skimmer (juveniles seen at Yamuna, Sonipat-Baghpat bridge), White-browed Bushchat (Sirsa, Sultanpur), Bristled Grassbird (Sirsa, Mohamedabad marshes in Sonipat), Yellow Weaver (Sultanpur), Dalmatian Pelican (Sultanpur, Bhindawas), Oriental Darter (breeds in Tilyar, Sultanpur and Bhindawas), Painted Stork (breeds), Black-necked Stork (breeds), Black-headed Ibis (breeds), Lesser Flamingo (Sultanpur), Ferruginous Duck, Grey-headed Fish-Eagle (Rithal), Red-headed Vulture, Pallid Harrier, Asian Dowitcher and Black-bellied Tern.
Haryana has 3 bird sanctuaries, i.e. Sultanpur Jheel, Bhindawas and Khaparhwas which cover only 7 sq. km. area in total. Much more is needed to be done to protect the state's bird habitats. Some of the needs are described below.
Canals: Western Yamuna Canal and its system including - Sirsa Branch, Hansi Branch, Sundar Branch, Butana Branch, JNL Feeder, Bhalaut Branch, Delhi Branch, Pai Branch. In fact, two bird sanctuaries namely Bhindawas Lake and nearby Khaparhwas Lake have come into existence due to JNL Feeder and Bhalaut branch.
Bhakra canal is another important canal system. All these canals irrigate the entire state with hundreds of minor irrigation channels. These canals and their branches have created long stretches of marshy patches all along their banks, attracting birds in large number. These also serve breeding grounds for many a species.
Suggestions: Tree rows along these canals and their channels should not be felled. More native species trees, particularly babul species, should be planted all along.
Villagers, particularly, poor and weaker sections depend upon these trees to collect dead and fallen branches for fuel wood. Cattle grazes along the banks and grass is regularly collected as fodder for the cattle. Tall grasses including reeds are also collected by villagers for making thatches roofs in the villages. Many families depend on these grasses as ornamental huts are made in the farm houses and home gardens.
Many species of medicinal weeds grow on these banks and marshy patches.
Drains: The state has, with the sole objective to provide immediate benefits to the citizens such as drainage, flood-control etc, has created vast stretched of drains. The most important among these drains is Drain Number Eight with its Diversion Drain. High and undulating banks of these drains are covered with bushes and trees. The slopes and beds are covered with reeds. Many species of birds are attracted to these drains. Several of these breed here. A look at the checklist of the Drain Number Eight can give a good example of bird-wealth of these drains.
Again, villagers depend on these drains for collection of fodder, fuel wood etc.
Suggestions: These canals and drains are not privately owned with minimum risk of encroachment. If trees, bushes and marshy patches along the canals are allowed to exist, these will benefit wildlife besides providing fodder, reeds, fuel-wood etc to many families.
The state government could consider enacting a notification on the banks/sides of all drains and canals, specifying that they would be vegetated with indigenous species, that such vegetation could not be destroyed, that its only permitted use was for fuel, fodder, etc. for local communities, and that local villagers individually or through their village institutions would have the rights and responsibilities for maintaining such strips. Additionally, since the canals and drains are currently under the Irrigation or Water departments, it would help to build some local village stake in their maintenance. The departments could provide some funding as an incentive for this. Finally, the state govt. or NGOs should encourage the setting up of Pakshi Mitra Mandals in the villages adjoining such canals and drains, for the purpose of bird study, monitoring, reporting poaching, fire prevention, and other such activities.
Some of the above suggestions would be relevant for the other habitats below also.
Village Ponds: The state has thousands of village ponds. Almost every village has its own pond. Ponds in the cities have been filled and are being filled. Unplanned human colonies are appearing upon these lands. Cattle drink and bath in these ponds. Many families also use ponds for bathing and washing of clothes. Some persons still collect mud and soil from these ponds for various uses. Unfortunately, these ponds are the neglected water bodies in the state today. These are being encroached upon. Another threat these village ponds are facing is their modification into fisheries.
Recommendation: For saving our bird-life, to stop falling water table and for other reasons we must focus on maintaining these village ponds. Small islands surrounded by water, reed-patches etc should be allowed to exist. These village ponds must be protected. All village ponds having more than 10 acres of area should be brought under the joint management of the wildlife department and the village institutions, taking care to safeguard the traditional rights of villagers.
River Yamuna: The entire river stretch of the Yamuna has been turned into a large fishery. Fisher-men (contractors' laborers) can be seen exploiting the river for catch. As such, bird life has suffered a major set back. It is recommended that at least 50% stretch of the river must be allowed to remain 'wildlife zone' intermittently and no fishing activities should be allowed on these areas. It will be prudent if the state authorities can approach their counterparts in Uttar Pradesh government for similar steps from their side. It may be mentioned here that traditional fishing activity is perhaps sustainable, whereas commercial large scale fishing is harming bird life. Measures for protection should safeguard the traditional bona fide fishing practices, while stopping or curtailing the large-scale commercial operations.
Haryana is in the grip of fast urbanization. It sounds impossible to stop this trend but we can do something to preserve bird life in the cities by the following steps:
Home gardens with native trees be granted a legal status, offering legal back-up to communities and citizens who want to protect them from misuse or conversion into non-natural areas. People need recognition and state authorities should do it. For this the Deputy Commissioner can issue 'recognition letters' to such owners. These wildlife conscious citizens can be honored in annual garden festivals or flower shows.
Municipalities, municipal committees and municipal corporations must be approached to urge their citizens to resort to 100% rain water harvesting. A formula can be calculated giving guidelines on how much sq.ft./meters concrete tanks be made inside the premises. Houses, factories, schools, hospitals, shops etc must be coaxed to do it.
Sewage plants: City water be discharged through sewage system to a remote area, away from human habitation and after treatment should be discharged to a city-pond to further charge our aquifers. This will also attract vast concentration of water fowl. An example of Gurgaon can be given here. Basai village is located on the outskirt of the town on Farukhnagar road. Water after treatment is discharged into nearly 200 acres of fields. At present, 10,000 water birds can be seen there. Black-necked Stork and Sarus Crane (both threatened birds) are nesting, one pair each, in this area. We suggest to begin with 100 acres of city-per per district headquarters will be a good idea to begin with.
Brick-kilns: In the wake of rapid urbanization and changing life style of villager, brick-kilns have sprung up in the rural areas of the state. After a few years, a kiln has to stop and move to other site. The deserted site, with a few pits and depression which come into existence due to scooping out of the soil, attract birds and other wildlife. Efforts should be made to take care of these sites, reclaiming or regenerating them for the recovery of some wildlife populations.
Haryana is a classical example of extensive and intensive farming. Application of chemical pesticides and fertilizers is increasing, despite the fact that farmers are aware of their dangerous side-effects. (Many farmers do not apply chemical fertilizers and pesticides to that crop which they grow exclusively for their own consumption). As a consequence, many birds die of poisoning, including Pea-fowls, Mynas and Crows. Personal communications with educated farmers reveal that on an average 50 birds die per acre after chemical spray wherever intensive farming takes place (for example, in the fields belonging to Harsana and Malchha villages in Sonipat district, several dead birds died due to eating chemically treated seeds this winter).
Suggestion: Farmers should be educated to resort to biological control, and provided incentives for organic farming. For this, bushes and native trees can be planted on the 'daul' (boundary between the two fields). Gonda (dirt track among the fields so that villagers can have access to the roads without causing conflict with the neighbors) can serve conservation purpose for birds. Trees, particularly of Babuls, Raunj, Janti, Ber, Jherberi etc. should be planted along these gondas. Financial or other incentives can be given to farmers to retain bund vegetation, or other patches of vegetation which act as important refuge habitats or corridors for wildlife.
Bannies (traditional forest patches)
Unfortunately, 'bannies' are being removed. These bannies have been harboring wildlife including birds since centuries, besides fulfilling the needs of the villagers for fodder, fuel wood etc. Jaal is a fast disappearing tree species of the state. Still whatever bannies are left (these are on panchayat land) should be preserved. Jaal tree has been a favorite for the Spotted Owlet (Athene brama) due to its natural cavities. This small owl is known as a 'rodent controller'. Salhawas, Matanhale and many other villages still have 'banies' and these should be protected.
Canal Rest Houses
Since British period, Haryana has been having many canal rest houses, Chhota Thana, Kakroi, Sardana, Shrugthal, Juan, Rithal are a few such examples in Sonipat district. Average size of these rest house is nearly 5 acres each. Very old native trees are still found here which are used by birds for breeding etc. For example, the 10 kms long stretch from Kakroi Canal Rest House to Chhota Thana Canal Rest House - many decades ago, Delhi branch used to flow from here - there are nearly 300 very old mango and Jamun trees of the British period where several birds can be seen breeding. It will be better if these rest houses can be transferred to the Wildlife Department. If wildlife tourist is promoted, then these canal rest houses with minor modifications can attract good number of visitors. Villagers use these rest houses for the same purpose as Lodhi Garden is used by Delhi-wallas.