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GHARANA WETLAND: Abode of Migratory Birds

Ghar-ana wetland (meaning welcome home) is paradise of migratory birds. Gharana and its adjoining wetlands of Makwal, Kukdian, Abdullian and Pargwal every year receive about 10000 to 20000 migratory birds in winter. All these wetlands are located along the border with Pakistan. 

Their existence is threatened because of several human and management factors. All these wetlands are Notified under J&K Wildlife Act and are recognized Important Birding sites by the BNHS but the total neglect of Government, the wildlife department and non cooperative attitude of local famers and administration has put these wetlands under serious threat.

Gharana wetland is located along the border in RS Pura tehsil of Jammu district about 30 kms from Jammu near Gharana village. Earlier this spot alongwith other wetlands was the favourite hunting ground for Shikaris but thanks to the Wildlife Conservation Act that the hunting has stopped. Abdullian wetland is located along the border in RS Pura Tehsil but over the years local farmers have encroached its area and have almost become extinct. Twin wetlands of Makwal and Kukdian are located in the downstream of river Tawi near border with Pakistan. These wetlands are comparatively better in condition but are fast being encroached by the locals and Nomadic Gujjars. If same indifferent approach and neglect of concerned authorities continues it will also meet the same fate as that of Gharana and Abdullian. Pargwal wetlad is a group of Islands and small streams downstream of river Chenab in Akhoor Tehsil of Jammu district. This wetland is also not much known to the citizens of Jammu which is still in a better status.

For the neglect of the conservation of Gharana wetland the wildlife department has an escapist argument that the revenue department has not yet demarcated and handed over the area so they are helpless to do any management intervention in this wetland. Locals taking advantage of this confusion continue encroaching the wetland at a very fast rate and department failed to initiate any action under the Wildlife Act against the encroachers so far. Department has been the silent spectator to the deterioration of important wetlands in Jammu district for the last almost thirty years which stand notified by the Government under Wildlife Act. Farmers have counter argument that the migratory birds destroy their crops therefore they use all means to scare the birds away includes the use of crackers. 

Recently, in the year 2014 Divisional Commissioner Jammu has constituted a committee headed by Deputy Commissioner Jammu and other revenue and wildlife department officers to settle the rights of people, demarcate the wetland and handover same to the wildlife department. Interestingly none of the revenue and wildlife department took it seriously to settle the rights of the farmers and demarcate the area under wetland in last 35 years except passing the buck on each other shoulders. Who is ultimately responsible for such a mismanagement and violation of the provisions of the Wildlife Act. 

Many officers in the concerned department and some of the locals also believe that this all confusion is the creation of the local politicians who are not serious to develop these wetlands and neither has the vision and roadmap to develop their areas. Divisional Commissioner Jammu should also constitute committees for other wetlands and monitor the work himself every month to assess the progress. This has to be done in time bound manner and not to wait for another 35 to fifty years. People of Jammu have lot of expectations from the government and the administration for the development of these wetlands. His excellency the Governor of J&K state who believes in speed and good governance is requested to intervene and get the revenue and other development works expedited.

In the Gharana wetland more than 170 resident and migratory species have been reported by the researchers of Jammu University. Some of the flagship species are Bar headed Geese, Grey Lag Goose, Shelduck, Pochard, Gadwill, Pintail Duck, Mallard, Spoonbills, Common Cranes, Wooly necked Storks and Wigeon, Whistling Teals. For the scientific development of the Gharana wetland, J&K Wildlife department recently engaged World Wide Fund for Nature India for the study and drafting of Management Plan for the wetland but the recommendations of the management cannot be implemented till the dispute with regard to the ownership of wetland is settled and farmers and other stakeholders interest are watched. Genuine Issue of payment of compensation to the effected famers needs to be addressed.

Abdullian wetland, another important wetland near Gharana which has become extinct needs to be retrieved and rehabilitated immediately.

Makwal and Kukdian wetlands located in the downstream of river Tawi are very near to Jammu city. These wetlands are accessible both from Phallain Mandal and Gho-Manhasa. From Jammu these wetlands are not more than 10 to twenty kms. In 2014 winters there were more migratory birds in Makwal and Kukdian than at Gharana due to disturbance by the farmers. The water bodies due to September rains were full of water and several new sandy islands were formed due to flooded waters. This habitat provided sufficient space to migratory birds for roosting, resting and feeding of aquatic food in the water. Because of presence of Army pickets in the area also provided good security to birds. Towards Makwal side there were more number of Brahmney Ducks. More than 300 Brahminey Ducks were sighted this year. But towards Kukudian side there were more than 2000 Bar Headed Geese along with other migratory birds. These islands of sand and the big size of water body provides sufficient opportunity to the state Government and wildlife department to immediately start conservation and development works to save this water body. The management plan should include construction of small bunds on both sides of the river to collect maximum level of water from river and also collection of garbage which comes from city and Bhagwati Nagar dumping site. Garbage and sewerage of Jammu city makes river water highly polluted and unsuitable for migratory birds for feeding and swimming. The polluted water can lead to the killing of several birds due to diseases and unhygienic conditions.

Pargwal wetland is about fifty Kms from Jammu city comprising of group of several Islands and water channels of river Chenab near village Pargwal. This is a vast area of free flowing rivulets of river Chenab where more than 3000 to 5000 Bar Headed Geese and other migratory birds visit every year. This wetland has also not yet received the attention of the Government, the concerned department and the civil society. Government should immediately undertake conservation and development works for the preservation of the habitat on the basis of scientific investigation and management. WWF-India recently organized workshops, seminars and conferences in schools, colleges and university to generate the awareness among school students and civil society. Camps were also organized with farmers, villagers and nearby Panchayats to get their support for the conservation and development of these wetlands. Posters on the conservation of Gharana wetland ad migratory birds were also published and distributed to the public and educational institutions for their awareness and support. Support of media will help a great deal for the preservation of these wetlands in Jammu. Media should come forward to raise the issue with the government for its preservation and also make civil society aware of their responsibility.

This network of excellent wetlands along the border in Jammu district is an ideal site for the migratory birds both for their staging ground as well as home for stay for three to four months. Since these wetlands are part of the Central Asian flyway route for the winter and summer migration of rare and threatened species of birds from Northern Hemisphere to Southern hemisphere both ways and India being signatory to Ramsar, IUCN, Migratory Routes convention and other International treaties it becomes all the more important for the State government and Wildlife department to save these wetlands as a transit home for the birds for their survivability and gift of Nature for the coming generations.

These wetlands are not only home to birds but provide an excellent opportunity to the state government to develop them as Eco-Tourist destinations for attracting National and International tourists. Birding fairs, Bird Watching ad Bird Eco-Tourism is a multimillion dollar tourism industry in the world. We should think of developing wetlands both for the domestic as well as International tourism. If these wetlands are developed, this will give boost to the border tourism as well as alterative tourism opportunity to the tourists visiting Vaishno Devi as well as Kashmir valley. In this effort both Tourism and Wildlife Department can join hands for collaborative investment and development. Development of border wetlands is a win - win situation for both Wildlife as well as Tourism departments.

These border wetlands of Jammu district are Nature's gift to the citizens of the state and God's gift to the Birds who fly thousands of miles every year to visit these wetlands. We must respect Nature and take appropriate actions as a responsible government and citizens of state to develop these wetlands both for wild birds as well as tourism for the sustainable development of the backwards border areas of the state providing livelihoods and employment to the local youth and also helping tourism and trade industry  to think for alternative options.

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