Monday 3 June 2013

The bird sanctuary in a drain

If you happen to be in Delhi, ask the people there about the river near their city and a majority of them are bound to point out the Yamuna river. Tell them that there is another river running across Delhi and they are more than likely to scratch their heads in disbelief and once again reiterate that the Yamuna is the only river.
How false is this fact which has been perpetuated for generations by everyone, including the authorities, who have conveniently forgotten the existence of perhaps one of the most ecologically rich and climate controlling river of Sahibi or Sabi river.
Yes, Sahibi is one more river that flows by Delhi by today most people, including Delhities know the river as the Najafgarh drain. This is perhaps the only river in India that flows from south to North direction in between the Aravalli ranges.
The Sahibi is one among the many rivers that originate in the Aravallis. The other three rivers are Indori, Dohan and Kasavati rivers, all of which flow north-south.
Over the years, the Sahibi and the vast lake it forms at Najafgarh has been misnamed, misclassified and mistaken, sometimes deliberately,  as a drain and even today it is popularly known as Najafgarh drain.
In reality, the Najafgarh drain is a channelised waterway fed by the Sahibi river and one formed the Najafgarh Jheel. The Jheel quickly became a drain when the municipal authorities and localities called it a Nullah.
Till the 1960s, the Jheel encompassed 300 square kilometers of a seasonal lake and it was the rain-fed Sahibi river, that originated in Jitgarh and Manoharpur in Jaipur district of Rajasthan, that was its main source of water. When the Jheel overflowed, and this was regular and frequent in the rainy seasons every year, the waters drained into the Yamuna river. Thus, Sahibi was one of the tributaries of the Yamuna.
However for some strange reason, the authorities decided to dig a huge drain from Dhansa- where the Sahibi flows or rather enters the union territory of Delhi- on the outskirts of Delhi and link it directly to the Yamuna. This had the effect of draining out the Nagafgarh lake.       
The channel from Dhansa has regulators and it runs upto Keshopur Bus Depot on the Outer Ring Road. The channel is wide with thick and high embankments. A vast amount of water is retained in channel by closing the crest gates at Kakrola under Najafgarh Road to recharge the local ground water table. Hence, the channel acts as an elongated lake as well.
The Sahibi forms a fairly broad water course near Alwar  and Kotputli in Rajasthan as it is fed by over a hundred streams. It then enters Rewari in Haryana State and reenters Rajasthan at Kot Kasim. It then again traverses to Haryana  near Jarthal village. During summer, the dry river bed near Jarthal is several kilometres wide. During scant monsoon rainfall, the flat and sandy soil absorbs all rain water and the river almost runs dry.
Today, this once magnificent water body, when it reaches Delhi, is nothing but a polluted mass of liquid. It is rated Delhi’s most polluted water body as inflow of untreated sewage from surrounding populated areas of the national capital region of Delhi even today continues.
The Jheel once controlled the climate of Delhi and it also helped maintain the water table of the capital and surrounding areas. But this is no longer the case. The Jheel is bone dry and the river nothing more than a cesspool of sewage, debris, filth and silt.
The Central Pollution Control Board has clubbed this drain with thirteen other highly polluted wetlands under category ‘‘D ’’ for assessing the water quality of wetlands in wildlife habitats. The drain was once famous for its wetland ecosystem, waterbirds and wildlife.
Today, this has transformed into one of the longest sewage drains of Delhi. However, over the yeas, the drain has been attracting a large number of birds and last year wildlife enthusiasts and bird watchers counted 77 species, both resident and migratory, in the vicinity.
The birds frequented the drain along a 12-kilometre stretch between Delhi's border with Jyotigarh village in Haryana and the Chhawla BSF Camp bridge as the water is clan and the water is much less polluted. Once the water crosses the BSF camp bride, it turns into a cesspool.
The Asian Waterbird Census (AWC), in its 2013 report, said it had taken up a study of  birds in the drain as part of the largest and longest running internationally coordinated faunal monitoring programme in the world. This study found 75 species of birds roosting in the drain.
Another study by Wetlands International was undertaken to identify and monitor Wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention of Wetlands. This survey too listed the number of birds in the drain and the steps needed to conserve the fragile ecosystem.
Surveys and wildlife enthusiast have identified several endangered species of birds making their home here, including 34 oriental white ibis or black-headed ibis, 98, gadwalls, 121 painted stork, 90 northern shovelers, ten  northern pintails, sixteen common coots and a number of cattle egrets, great cormonants, spotbill ducks, common moorhens, swamp hens, common teals, black ibis, Glossy ibis, wooly-necked storks and  Eurasian wigeons.
Today, mention Najafgarh and people immediately associate it with cricket player Virender Sehwag and Olympic wrestler Susheel Kumar. The mention of the drain comes next.
Najafgarh is at the outskirts of the southwestern part of  Delhi.
It was so named after the Kiledar (Fort Administrator) Najaf Khan Baloch (1733-1782) of the Mughal dynasty during the 16th century. The Khan was a powerful Persian noble of the later Mughal court and later this place became the stronghold of Rohilla Afghan chieftain Zabita Khan.
It was here that the Battle of Najafgarh was fought on August 25, 1857 between Indians and British soldiers as part of the first war of Indian Independence. At least, 800 people died in the battle, which was the first victory for the British in the uprising.
The drain is once again attracting birds and it has perhaps become the only bird sanctuary in a drain. It is time for the authorities to wake up and take steps to preserve, protect and nurture the water bodies

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