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Paradise Lost: Khijadiya Wrecked By Development

Paradise Lost: Khijadiya Wrecked By Development

Sanctuary delineates the developmental activities taking place inside Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary in Jamnagar, Gujarat, as the residents and birders of the state rally against the destruction of their beloved birding paradise.

Signposts vandalised in Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary. Photo: Asad Rahmani.

In 1984, Salim Ali, the legendary Birdman of India, spotted 104 species of birds in a single day at Khijadiya, Gujarat’s largest bird sanctuary. While some would attribute this particular feat wholly to the prowess of Salim Ali, there is no denying the fact that Khijadiya indeed is a treasure, providing refuge to more than 250 species of resident and migratory birds.

Spread over an area of six square km., Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary is located at a distance of 13 km. from the town of Jamnagar. Khijadiya supports a unique ecosystem, encompassing both salt and freshwater marshlands. These marshlands are crucial as they are home to six vulnerable species- Dalmatian Pelican, Pallas’ Fish Eagle, Indian Spotted Eagle, Greater Spotted Eagle, Sarus Crane, Indian Skimmer and ten near-threatened species.

Therefore when 2016 saw a drastic fall in the numbers of migratory birds, it became a cause of concern for birders and the residents of Jamnagar. This decline, was accompanied by a simultaneous increase in construction and development activities inside the sanctuary.

Stretches of vegetation were cut down to increase the size of the bunds along water bodies, bringing visitors within disturbing proximities of the nesting birds. Hundreds of benches were placed on the fringes of the waterbodies. Although this allowed the visitors a closer look at the birds, it reduced the unobtrusive act of birding to a mere recreational tourist activity. The installation of a ‘Burmese swing’  bridge connecting the bunds to previously inaccessible roosting sites right in the middle of the wetlands has enraged birders and conservationists alike.

“These sites were seldom frequented by researchers and the census team, but now after the construction of such bridges, these sites have been made accessible to common tourists and visitors who have no knowledge of roosting behaviour,” said Bhargav Bhuva, a Jamnagar resident and an avid birder.

“The purpose of a sanctuary is to protect endangered species, not to cater to the demands of tourists. What is the need for a dining facility atop a watch tower?,” argued Bhuva.

Requesting anonymity, a government official who has been documenting birds for over 20 years in Jamnagar reported a decrease in heronry at Khijadiya in the year 2016.

“A census of bird species at Khijadiya needs to be carried out in order to ascertain numbers and population demographics of the birds. Along with that, combined efforts from the forest department, conservationists, NGOs and the citizens can help restore Khijadiya to its natural glory,” said the official.

Over the past few months, a decrease in bird population has been observed in Khijadiya. Photo: Asad Rahmani.

Speaking to Sanctuary, senior birder Jaypalsinh Jadeja said: “Jamnagar citizens weren’t even aware of the development and construction that was taking place inside Khijadiya, since it was strategically done at a time when the sanctuary was closed to visitors. After the summer months, the sanctuary was re-opened and we were shocked to see all that had transpired. The sanctuary had been turned into a tourist spot, all in the name of development”.

Aggrieved by the state of the sanctuary, a few concerned citizens along with birders of Jamnagar, approached the Chief Conservator of Forests of Marine National Park, Shyamal Tikadar under whose authority the developmental activities had taken place. However, despite repeated attempts, the citizens were unable to secure a meeting with the Chief Conservator.

The enraged citizens then mobilised a protest and soon saw their cause take shape. Numerous E-mails were sent to wildlife organisations, activists, and authority figures including the likes of Maneka Gandhi in order to garner support for Khijadiya.

The protestors met the authorities at Gandhinagar, and soon after were alerted of an order stating a transfer of administrative powers of Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary, from Marine National park to the Junagadh division in Gujarat.

While no further “developmental activity” has taken place at Khijadiya, the benches, the impractical hides, the swinging bridges all remain within the sanctuary. Tracts of land that were cleared for plantation of exotic trees such as bottle-palm, now lie dried up.

“80 to 90 per cent of bottle palms have withered away as their has been no maintenance post the so called development period,” informed Jadeja.

Asad Rahmani, the former director of Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) has come cracking down on  Gujarat Government, accusing the administration of violating The Wild Life Protection Act of 1972.

Burmese Bridge in Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary Photo: Asad Rahmani.

In his report titled ‘Destruction of Khijadiya Bird Sanctuary’ published in March 2017, Rahmani postulates the development activities undertaken within the sanctuary, which, he argues have caused more damage than good.  “The general impression one gets in Khijadiya is that it is a public park, more for the amusement of visitors. During my visit, I did not see any serious bird watchers, instead i saw lots of young couples, rowdy visitors climbing machans, talking loudly and creating a ruckus,” said Rahmani.

Rahmani’s report enlisted redundant structures that were introduced in the sanctuary. For instance, a large number of tarpaulin sheds were installed but were hurriedly taken down right before an inspection visit by the Gujarat government. Two toilets, without a flushing system or a water connection, stand out prominently like an ‘eyesore’, states Rahmani in his report.

Another disturbing trend that Rahmani points out, is the shooting of marriage and party videos accompanied with incidents of visitors burning firecrackers within the sanctuary.“These activities must be strictly prohibited. The authorities should be questioned for allowing such behaviour inside the sanctuary," said Rahmani.

Reiterating the state of Khijadiya, Asad Rahmani has called for strict departmental action against the authorities responsible for the counterproductive developmental activities in Khijadiya. Rahmani suggests that the government withdraw all such developments from the park and take science based steps rather than opinion based, in order to restore the sanctuary to its former glory.

Senior birder Jaypalsinh Jadeja clarifies that their fight is not against the authorities, but against the actions that were undertaken by these authorities.

“We do not have a problem with the officials, but with their actions. These officers come for two years and change policies, but it is the people who have to live with these changes. Khijadiya’s damage is a big loss to the people of Jamnagar,” said Jadeja.

Author: Anadya Singh

 
 
 

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