Guwahati, Thursday, January 10, 2019
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Number of winged visitors declining in famed Satajan wetland
Farhana Ahmed

 NORTH LAKHIMPUR, Jan 9 - The scenic view of Ranganadi with the blue hills of Arunachal Pradesh on the northern horizon on New Year’s Day in North Lakhimpur got distorted due to the number of vehicles carrying picnickers. The scene is the same today as it has been over the years with blaring of music systems, firing of crackers and noise of unruly crowds on the right hand side bank of Ranganadi river affecting the winged visitors that come to the nearby Satajan wetland the most.

 Satajan Wetland, situated on the right hand side bank of Ranganadi river on the outskirts of North Lakhimpur is known for the large presence of the migratory and residential birds in the winter season but has less numbers of winged visitors this time. Thanks to the growing presence of picnic parties, uncontrolled sand mining and boulder as well as gravel and pebble extractions on Ranganadi river bed, coupled with daily movements of trains – the once famed sanctuary of migratory birds is facing extinction due to complete apathy by the state departments concerned and some insensitive people.

Located 27°12'36"North and 94°2'56"East and about 7 kilometres away from North Lakhimpur in the junction of National Highway-15 and the Dejoo-Kimin Road, the wetland had regular visitors like Large Whistling Teal, White Breasted Water Hen, Bronze Winged Jacana, Indian Purple moorhen and coots over the years and is the visiting site of the endangered white eyed Pochard, a migratory bird from the Siberian Pacific belt. It is a unique habitat of aquatic flora and fauna covering an area of 34 acres of land. Out of the total area of the wetland, 21 acres of land belongs to the Northeast Frontier Railway. The wetland is crossed by the rail tracks of NF Railway’s Rangia-Murkongchelek route which remained dormant for a long period till 2015 during its meter gauge system and subsequently during the gauge conversion work. But since 2015, running of three regular passenger trains and numerous freight services have been causing jarring noises leaving the avian visitors scared and disturbed resulting in lesser numbers of migratory birds this year. Earlier, surveys conducted by various conservationist groups like Asian Water Bird Census of Indian Bird Conservation Network, Natural History Society etc., had recorded as many as 34 species of residential and 13 species of long distance and altitude migratory birds and more than 25 species of fish fauna in Satajan wetland during 2007-08.

However, the existence of the wetland was contested by some local people who had the opinion that Satajan was created after the great earthquake of 1950 which destroyed revenue land belonging to them. They claim that the earthquake changed the course of Ranganadi river bringing a stream of it to their lands forming the present wetland. The villagers formed an NGO and demanded that Satajan wetland to be cleared from its aquatic plants and reeds to transform it into a large fishery project to generate income. Therefore, a PIL was filed against that demand at Gauhati High Court in 2008 by some nature lovers from North Lakhimpur. The Gauhati High Court delivered its verdict in favour of the wetland vide its notification Memo No.690-595/PIL dated 24-02-2010 and ordered the authority concerned of the state government to take a decision with regard to constitution of bird sanctuary/community reserve in the water body of Satajan. But apathy by the state departments to uphold the court’s verdict in the last eight years have taken a heavy toll on this once famed yet endangered wetland with a growing number of cases of poaching, illegal fishing and catching of birds with fishing nets.

In 2011 on the occasion of World Environment Day, the rare Satphool, an exotic flower once found in Sadiya was planted by Dr Prabin Saikia, retired Head of the Department, Assamese, Bihpuria College and a conservation enthusiast. The flower which has been closely associated with Assamese folk culture and extraction of salt in Sadiya in the past was extinct and was nurtured by Dr Saikia in his botanical garden named Bon-Tirtha earlier. The then Lakhimpur Deputy Commissioner and internationally acclaimed environmentalist, Dr Anwaruddin Chawdhury planted the aquatic plant on this wetland on that day. But just within four weeks of that plantation of the rare Satphool, the Satajan wetland was found with dumped plastic bottles, wrappers, beer bottles and cans and other garbage. The dirtying of the wetland violated the 24(1) Clause of Water Pollution Act of 1974 and also violated the Garbage Disposal Order of September 25, 2000 of Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Government of India.

The death of octogenarian Baliram Gogoi on August 8 last year also had a negative impact on Satajan wetland. Gogoi was the lone ranger of guarding the wetland from every threat from human encroachment to pollution and poaching activities. Known as the Bird Man of Lakhimpur, Gogoi’s death has been a worry for the status of Satajan wetland which is yet to get any official status from the departments concerned. All these have made the wetland very vulnerable in recent times with reduced presence of migratory and residential birds.

The disturbance caused by the fishermen is gradually destroying the natural habitat of many bird species. If urgent steps are not taken by concerned authority to protect and conserve the wetland, the area will soon become degraded and in the process a great diversity of fauna will be lost. The Lakhimpur district administration should take urgent steps to protect the fragile ecosystem of Satajan by restricting the entry of the picnickers, clearing from it garbage and plastic wastes and to make some awareness programmes.

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