Srinagar: As the season for the migration of birds from the north arrives, huge chunks of Kashmir’s Hokersar wetland have turned dry.
Just eight kilometres away from the heart of Srinagar city, the wetland has gone unnoticed since the 2014 floods, and is now close to devastation.
According to data from the government, the active area of Hokersar has shrunk from 14 square kilometres to less than 6 square kilometres in the past few decades. This data has not been updated since years.
Known as the ‘queen of wetlands’, Hokersar attracts millions of migratory birds every year including Tufted Ducks, Gadwalls, Mallards and other species who fly here from Siberia and other parts.
The wetland has been declared as a Conservation Reserve under the Jammu and Kashmir Wild Life Protection Act, 1978.
In August, Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Pandurang K Pole had chaired a meeting of concerned officers on conservation of Hokarsar, Wular and Kreentcho-Chandhara wetlands, and directed the officers to remove all encroachments within 45 days. It has been more than 100 days since.
Witnesses living in the vicinity have alleged that the Flood and Irrigation Control Department has dug deep trenches in the upper part of Hokersar which blocks the water to the wetland, and has resulted in the ecosystem of the wetland being affected.
Haji Ali Mohammad, 65, a local resident of Gund Hassi Bhat told Free Press Kashmir that this is for the first time in his life that he has seen the wetland drying up.
“In the month of October and November we see countless migratory birds like Eurasian Coot, Diving Ducks, Pintail, Explore Bloom visiting this wetland. But, from the last two years their numbers have visibly declined,” he said.
He said that now Hokersar is shrinking and people too are taking undue advantage of it and have started illegal encroachments in many areas of the wetland.
“Besides, some people are throw domestic waste in Hokersar which is posing a serious threat to Aquatic life of the wetland,” he added.
Range Officer, Sohail Ahmad told Free Press Kashmir, “the water level of the wetland has been reduced due to the dredging done by flood and irrigation control department. And the water catchment area of the wetland is receiving less water due to silt which has been there since the floods in 2014.”
He said that their concerned employees have blocked all the exit points of water from Gund Hassi Bhat, Sozait and others areas that would help in accumulation of water in the entire wetland.
“I expect that the arrival of migratory birds won’t be affected,” he said.
Regarding illegal encroachments on the banks Hokersar he said, “we have issued notices to the people who have started plantation and illegal encroachments in Hokersar wetland. With the help of protection force, we are going to launch an eviction drive against them and will remove all the illegal encroachments within no time.”
“Hokersar has turned dry due the silt which came from Peer Panjal during September 2014 floods. Since then, we have only made navigation channels and small ponds for migratory birds. But, we couldn’t remove silt from the wetland due to limited funds,” he said.
“I believe that whole Hokersar should be fully dredged and deposited silt should be removed,” Sohail added.
However, besides promises of ‘prompt action’, and ‘within 45 days’ claims, nothing has been done on the ground.