- A 100-acre pond site at village Thana in Kurukshetra district was declared as Haryana’s first community reserve site in 2017.
- The biodiversity-rich site is a natural habitat of endangered turtle species and attracts migratory birds.
- The village’s sewage water however continues to flow in to pond untreated. Much of other restoration work planned initially like strengthening of mounds and proper fencing around the area is still awaited.
In July 2017, the Haryana government had declared a 100-acre pond site at village Thana in its Kurukshetra district as the state’s first community reserve site, to conserve its rich biodiversity. Four years on, there is much left to be done at the ailing pond – though there is hope as the authorities too are keen in protecting the pond that the village reveres.
“Despite its rich biodiversity and noble step by Haryana government to declare it community reserve four years ago, the place has not been restored the way it was planned initially,” Ved Parkash, a local villager and husband of Thana village’s outgoing sarpanch Sharda Devi, told Mongabay-India. He said the entire village’s sewage water is drained into the pond. The wildlife department hired a contractor to set up a five-pond system that is a natural way to clean dirty sewerage water inside the pond. But it ceased to work soon after and the department did not take any cognisance of the matter.
The site, which the local villagers believe existed since the ancient period of Mahabharata, has long been the natural habitat of the Indian softshell turtle (Nilssonia gangetica), an endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. The state wildlife department also found the Indian flapshell turtle (Lissemys punctata), inside the pond, making the site even more prominent for aquatic wildlife.
According to Chetna Sharma, a bird watcher based in Kurukshetra and a member of the community reserve project’s management committee, the site is also a major hub of migratory birds in the region who arrive mainly in the winter season. She has already recorded more than 120 species of birds like common shelduck, red-crested pochards, mallards, black-throated thrushes and species like woolly necked storks, painted storks, etc. In the summers it is delightful to watch beautiful pheasant-tailed jacanas in breeding plumage, greater painted snipes and lesser whistling teals, she tells Mongabay-India.
The wildlife department had also created mounds as well as bunds for resting and nesting of turtles and birds but those too caved in.
“The pond site is a matter of huge faith for us. We believe that it is the original Brahma Sarovar (a holy water body of Hindus), which did not get wider recognition. Gulzari Lal Nanda, our former Prime Minister, visited the site in the 60s and wanted this site to emerge as a main religious and tourist destination. But somehow it could not happen and we villagers still regret it,” said Ved Parkash.
“Now that the state government has adopted the site and envisioned it to be developed as an eco-tourism hub, the restoration work is not proper. There is no proper road. The clean water line to the pond is lying fractured,” he said.
According to him, his wife being a sarpanch was part of the management committee whose purpose was to supervise the restoration work. But the committee was never kept in the loop by the department as far as restoration work is concerned.
Plantation, fencing work pending
Fencing the community reserve site was also part of the original restoration plan. The purpose was to prevent the entry of cattle and other stray animals like dogs into it. But the budget for the work is yet not made available, said department officials. Apart from fencing, desilting and removal of weeds from the water body are also required.
The site also has old, traditional trees of Jaal species around the pond. However their roots are damaged as the villagers, for a long time were tying their cattle with their stems. Sharma told Mongabay-India that authorities should hold a meeting with the villagers to stop them from tying their cattle to these trees.
These trees also need to be revived by strengthening their roots apart from the plantation of other trees in and around the site. She said the thick tree cover is of vital importance to protect the biodiversity as well as to make sure that the avian population gets a suitable environment to lay their eggs and breed. “The birds breed only at the site where they feel safe enough to lay their eggs. So this site needs to be proper environment,” she added.
“The outbreak of COVID-19, I suppose, delayed much of the restoration work. But the good thing is that the department is serious about restoration work. Recently, chief wildlife warden Jagdish Chander called a meeting and sought recommendations to spruce up the place. I believe the department will speed up the restoration activities in the near future,” she said.
She said village ponds in most parts of Haryana were converted into commercial fishing. But here is the place that remains untouched and developed into a major hub for migratory and domestic birds apart from giving shelters to rare turtle species. Therefore it must be protected and regular supervision is required, she added.
All works are being taken on priority: department
While Jagdish Chander could not be reached for comments, district wildlife officer Shyam Sundar told Mongabay-India that all important restoration work is being taken on priority.
The budget has already been sanctioned in this year’s annual plan for the strengthening of mounds as well as the revival of Jaal trees at the site. The problem is that villagers tie their cattle to the roots of these trees that must be stopped, he added.
“Apart from this, we are also carrying out plantations in and around the area. We recently planted Panchavati trees at the site and more trees will be planted in days to come,” he informed.
As far as fencing work of the site is concerned, he said the proposal was stopped due to some objections at the higher level. “But we will again push for it and revive the project, said Shyam Sunder.
On the failure of the five-pond system to clean the pond water, he said the idea of the system is to clean the dirty sewerage water before its drainage into the pond.
“It was damaged due to rains and other issues and then proper maintenance could not be done. We will make a provision for its maintenance and revive it, he said.
Read more: Managing waste to save the wetlands of Himachal Pradesh
Banner image: Pheasant tailed Jacana at Thana community reserve site. Photo by Chetna Sharma.