GUWAHATI, Jan 25 � Locked in a grim battle for survival, the sprawling Khamranga Beel located at Chandrapur exemplifies the rapid degradation of wetlands in and around the city.
Mounting anthropogenic pressures and industrial activities within the wetland�s periphery have hurt its fragile ecosystem, and lack of intervention from government authorities, including the Forest Department, has hastened its degradation process.
Conservation of the wetland assumes all the more significance because it is part of the Amchang wildlife sanctuary landscape, forming a single, contiguous conservation belt. Birdlife International had named it an Important Bird Area (IBA) together with Amchang in view of its rich avifaunal diversity. Birds apart, the beel is a lifeline for Amchang�s wildlife, especially the elephants which use the wetland widely for drinking and recreational purposes.
�It is baffling why the Forest Department could not include Khamranga within Amchang�s boundary, giving it an elevated legal conservation status. From the point of conservation, Amchang and Khamranga are inseparable, and the wetland was part of the reserve forest earlier,� Moloy Baruah of Early Birds, said.
The wetland hosts wide-ranging birds, including migratory species, during the winter. Even the critically-endangered white-backed vulture, slender-billed vulture, and spot-billed pelican, were recorded there.
But the avian footfall today stands drastically reduced. �Many species which we had recorded 10-15 years back are no longer frequenting it. This is a definite indication of the wetland�s decaying ecology,� Baruah said.
A forest official not wishing to be named said that it was a blunder to have left the wetland outside the legal boundary of Amchang. �Ecologically, Amchang and Khamranga form a single, distinct entity and the two ecosystems are dependent on one another,� he said.
As of now, almost half of Khamranga is covered with a thick layer of water hyacinth, severely hampering the wetland�s bio-productivity. Excessive fishing and large-scale agricultural activities in its vicinity are also damaging its ecology as are the roads being constructed on the wetland.
Harakanta Ingti, a local resident said that following the practice of giving the beel on lease, there has been overfishing in the water-body. �The fish population in Khamranga has dwindled following degradation of the wetland. The narrow-holed nets used in fishing by the lessees have worsened matters further, jeopardizing both aquatic fauna and flora,� he added.
Stone quarrying activities very close to the wetland and a traditional elephant corridor are also leading to accumulation of stone-dust and silt on the water-body�s bed besides spoiling the environment of the Amchang forest.