Bird sanctuary a bone of contention in dry Agra

April 12th, 2008 - 9:51 am ICT by admin  

By Brij Khandelwal
Agra, April 12 (IANS) A water reservoir developed by the British has been notified as a bird sanctuary. But Agra residents are peeved as they feel the winged visitors seem to be getting more attention than the city’s water needs. A century ago, the British developed Keitham Lake, the biggest in Uttar Pradesh, on the Agra-Delhi highway, as an emergency reservoir to take care of the water needs of Agra city during the hot summer months.

District authorities have now notified the lake as a bird sanctuary and a reserved wetland. But local residents and political activists of Agra are protesting against the decision.

“The water needs of the city have been overlooked and the birds are getting more attention. This is unfair because the birds started coming only a few years ago after the Bharatpur sanctuary nearby ran short of water supply for its wetlands,” said V.P. Singh of the Heritage Conservation Society.

Said eco-conservationist Shravan Kumar: “The problem is that every time the water level in the lake goes up, the birds nesting or laying eggs are threatened, and if the water level dips, there is a question mark on the utility of the reservoir for emergency needs of the city. This is the dilemma that needs to be addressed.”

The city of the Taj Mahal is already going through an acute water crisis as the river Yamuna is no longer able to meet the requirement of more than 200,000 residents of the city.

The two waterworks here are working overtime to process highly polluted waste flowing down the river from upstream cities, including Delhi.

“The water table has gone down, hand pumps are only coughing air, the ponds are dry and smaller streams in the district like Utangan, Khari and Karbana dried up long ago. The administration is now working on a project to bring Ganga waters through a pipeline that will cost hundreds of crores (billions) to the exchequer,” said P.K. Jain, member of the Agra Citizens Council.

The Keitham Lake, designed by British engineers, is fed from a branch of the Agra canal coming from the Okhla barrage.

“In a notified wetland, the water level has to be kept low. This is just the opposite of the original purpose and objective of developing this reservoir. If there is a water crisis in the city, the Keitham Lake would be of no use,” said a retired Jal Sansthan official.

“The district authorities have thoughtlessly converted the reservoir into a sanctuary which requires the release of water and lowering the level of storage to protect the birds and the islands that have appeared in the lake.”

Surendra Sharma, founder president of the Agra Hotels Association, said: “Right now, the Keitham Lake or the Soor Sarovar (named after the blind bard of Braj Bhasha Soor Das) is the chief source of water to the Mathura refinery which needs a continuous supply to run its systems.

“And for this water supply, which runs into millions of gallons, it pays peanuts, just Rs.100,000 annually.”

Netra Pal Singh, a social activist, said: “This is another example of how thoughtless and unimaginative those in the government are.”

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