I remember I had gone to R S Pura sector to see the border along with my batch mate Sh. B R Sharma in December 2004, along with three families. After the visit was over, we saw a number of birds in the nearby area. On enquiry, we were told that a lot of migratory birds come to the nearby wetland known as Gharana Wetland Conservation reserve. Since it was late in the evening we thought of visiting the same on the next visit.
I came to Jammu on 8th December 2015 after a period of 11 years and thought of visiting wetlands around Jammu town. During this intervening period of 11 years, my life changed completely as almighty diverted my mind and soul towards nature and wildlife. Most of my time is spent in capturing nature on my camera and sharing the beauty of nature with people at large. After discussing with my batch-mate Sh. B R Sharma, who is now the Chief Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir, and the Chief Wildlife Warden Sh. Deepak Khanna; I, along with Sh. Saleem and Sh. Rishipal Paul Ranger, reached the Gharana wetland at about 0630 hrs in the morning of 9th Dec. From the wildlife office, we could see the row of light of R S Pura chowki, hardly a few hundred meters. We could hardly see the birds as it was still dark but their perpetual calls resonated deep in our souls. As the time passed, their images started getting clear and better.
Gharana is a small village on the Indo-Pak border near R S Pura town. The wetland is about 35 km from Jammu city. It took us only half an hour to reach our destination in the morning hours.
An area comprising 200 acres was notified as wetland under the control of Department of Wildlife protection and comes under the jurisdiction of Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Protection Act. The area around the wetland comprises of agriculture fields which produces one of the best varieties of basmati rice in J & K.
During my stay of about two and a half hours in the premises of wildlife office compound, I could see a number of birds namely purple moorhen, white breasted waterhen, little greb, grey Heron, Cattle egret, intermediate Egret, Gadwall, Red-wattled lapwing, River Tern, Greater Coucal ,White-throated Kingfisher, Common myna, House crow, Red-vented bulbul, white wagtail, Citrine wagtail, Bar-headed Geese and Marsh harrier.
This wetland provides habitat for a large number of waterfowls, especially the bar-headed geese. One can see them at a close distance of a few meters from the office compound. Of course, during my stay, I saw one bar-headed geese landing in the water. A number of flocks (small and big) of bar-headed geese were seen in the sky and over the field of wheat. I even saw a river tern picking up a fish from the water and taking rounds in the sky. I was surprised to see it dropping and then again catching it subsequently. This process was repeated a number of times; maybe it was trying to catch the attention of his mating partner.
While I was trying to shoot the behavior of a pied kingfisher hovering over water to see his target, I saw the courtship of citrine wagtail in the air and I immediately focused on them and managed to record it with my camera. The passionate pair dived and came very close to the water surface and then chased away.
While I was shooting the birds I also saw a number of people moving in the field just in front of the office which caused disturbance to the birds. On enquiry, I was told that day by day the wetland is getting encroached by the farmers of the Gharana village. I even found out that although the notified area of wetlands is 200 acres but it is in fact much less. I could even observe that water from households being released in the wetland, thus polluting the same.
When I asked the field staff deployed at the wildlife office I was told that there is no proper fencing as the area allotted was the community land and the revenue authorities have still not allotted the land in favour of the wildlife department. I think this is the crux of the problem. Unless and until the land is properly demarcated, the same would be annexed by the land owners. The poor birds who cannot express would continue to suffer and the day is not far when the entire wetland would be wiped out and there will not be any area left for the birds. I also observed a signboard in the premises of the wildlife office stating that “Let us welcome migratory birds and ensure their safe stay. Our culture demands this.” Now the speechless birds think that the villagers are calling them to visit this place as the name indicates, GHAR ANA: meaning thereby please visit your home. However, the activities of the hosts indicate that they are asking birds not to visit their home which they have been doing for time immemorial. I am afraid that the smallest of this wetland besides Kukrian, Sangral, Pargwal, and Nanga wetland reserve (which are much bigger than Gharana) are also likely to face similar problems.
Can authorities concerning the wildlife whose concern is the safety of the winged visitors in their winter home or revenue authorities who are supposed to demarcate a proper place for their permanent home, look into their grievances? Only time will tell.