A road through El Dorado

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The proposed road in all probability would result in India losing the only breeding site for flamingos
The proposed road in all probability would result in India losing the only breeding site for flamingos
Photo: Vijay Kumar Soneji/Sanctuary

The treasures of Gujarat can evoke patriotic fervor in the hearts of even the most cynical anarchist. Spread over 7506 sq. km the Kutch Wildlife Sanctuary alone hosts several rare archaeological and ecological wonders. Yet a proposal to construct a road through this Protected Area threatens to irrevocably damage a number of these exquisite sites. The fate of Hanji Bet, Shravan Kavadia, Dholavira and species like the endangered Wild Ass will be decided in the upcoming meeting of the Standing Committee of the National Board of Wildlife.

The Gujarat State endorsed proposal is ostensibly in the interest of national security but a number of conservationists cry foul to this claim. An alternate road already exists for the use of the BSF and experts suspect that the main motive is to expand tourism in the region. Ironically the construction of the road could obliterate the region’s prime tourist attractions.

Come monsoon and the featureless landscape of the Rann of Kutch undergoes a magical transformation. The collusion of sea, river and rainwater allows a rich flow of nutrients and creates unique mudflats. It is to this seasonal ecosystem that every year thousands of Greater and Lesser flamingos flock. Once here, the flamingos give in to their amorous instincts, build mud nests, lay eggs and raise the next generation. The crustacean, fish and prawn that thrive in the saline waters of Flamingo City, feed not only the young grey hatchlings and their parents but also provide for a number of other species and even local fishermen.

This vast breeding ground prompted not just the creation of the sanctuary but has also been identified as an ‘Important Bird Area’ by the Bombay Natural History Society and the Birdlife International.

The proximity of the proposed road to Flamingo City is of grave concern as the intended construction is sure to obstruct the flow of fresh water and thus tamper with the fragile balance of this unusual marine ecosystem. A site visit carried out by three members of the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife yielded a report that unanimously rejected the proposal. The proposed construction would not just entail building a road but also an embankment of a total length of 62km and 6metres high that would artificially impound water. Dr MK Ranjitsinh, Dr Divyabhanusinh Chavda and Dr Asad Rahmani write in their report: “The team is of the considered opinion that if the proposed road is allowed to be constructed, it would in all probability result in the abandonment of this breeding site and thus India would lose the only breeding site of flamingos, which in turn could spell doom to the population of birds in the Indian Subcontinent.”

The other significant ecological site that would be affected if the road alignment were to be accepted is the sacred grove of ‘Shravan Kavadia’. This unique mangrove system is found nowhere else in the world – entirely cut off from the sea and over a 100km inland of it. The mammoth stand of Avicennia mangroves depends entirely on an underground supply of saline water from the sea. If built, the road would impede this influx of water and have an unknown effect on the mangrove.

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