August 23, 2008

Power Plant Link May Harm Bird Sanctuary

By Vikram Jit Singh

Chandigarh: Ornithologists and birdwatchers are up in arms against Haryana government's move to link the fortunes of Bhindawas bird sanctuary in Jhajjar district to two upcoming thermal power plants in its vicinity. A haven for nearly 270 species of migrant and resident birds, the sanctuary faces an uncertain future following a controversial desiltation project and burgeoning pressure on its water source from power plants.

The sanctuary is fed with excess waters of Jawahar Lal Nehru feeder canal. However, the Haryana irrigation department is going to undertake a project to widen the capacity of the canal to feed 300 cusecs to the 1,500 MW Indira Gandhi Super Thermal Power project and Jhajjar Case II project . The irrigation department also got the Haryana Wildlife department to clear a Rs 40 crore desiltation project for Bhindawas to deepen its waters . While it is official that the Indira Gandhi project will use up Bhindawas ' excavated silt, conservationists smell a surreptitious plan to tap the enhanced storage capacity of water after the desiltation.

The wildlife department cites the siltation as the reason for declining bird numbers but experts say the problems lie elsewhere like weeds and ill-thought schemes. " Earlier, under the guise of forestation, the 1014-acre sanctuary was shortened by nearly half after a forest nursery, concrete structures and a herbal park were set up. The park has led to the slow death of Haryana's largest heronry, where thousands of herons, cormorants, egrets and rails etc bred. over-run by the noxious weed, Mesquite (Prosopis juliflora), depriving birds of a fine wetland habitat. If they want a desiltation project to deepen the waters, why is the herbal park and the forest plantation not being reclaimed?" says Suresh Sharma, Haryana's leading birdman, author and founding father of Bhindawas.

Hisar-based birdwatcher Dr PS Sangwan minces no words. " Deep waters can be good for some birds, bad for others; desiltation does not necessarily lead to clearing of weed, water hyacinth, which has invaded Bhindawas; and silt from Bhindawas is not good for construction purposes as it is not like river silt, which is formed from stone erosion. Siltation will have to be done carefully because removal of the soil finishes grasses and seeds that birds like the Sarus crane feed on. Acquatic life, like small fish, on which migratory birds feed, will also be disturbed. If siltation is to succeed, it must carried out in phases and spread over years not in one go as planned," says Dr Sangwan.

What has raised apprehensions further is that the Aravali Power Co. Ltd. (APCL) - set up to execute the thermal plant - has undertaken an agreement recently with Haryana government to execute the desiltation. " The irrigation department need not do the desiltation. The APCL will save the government crores of rupees. The silt is anyways to be used by the plant," says HPGC's director (Technical ) YN Chug.

While Haryana Wildlife officials stoutly deny that Bhindawas' waters could be diverted to the power plant in the lean season, Chug says: " It could be done."

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