The Chari-Dhand wetland has received four months of water supply and has attracted lakhs of migratory birds from across the country and abroad. Naturalists had expressed apprehension when the Ramsar listed wetland had turned dry this May.
''I am happy that the wetland is no longer dry, as it was before the onset of the monsoons.
This unfortunately happens with every desert wetland. They are seasonal. Though it is not as watery as it was last year during the same time, the situation is not that bad," said Jugalkishore Tiwari, a Moti-Virani based ornithologist.
He said the famous Banni grassland on whose edge this wetland is situated, has a good grass cover and birds have started arriving here for nesting. “Next month onwards, cranes will start arriving here from Central Asia and Siberia,” he added. The wetland is spread over 80 sq km.
Tiwari said Chari-Dhand has the potential to become a hot spot for bird watching and wildlife conservation. He said: “The wetland attracts over 200 species of migratory birds including some endangered ones. Rare wild animals can also be seen here. To be qualified as a Ramsar site, a wetland must have 20,000 birds at a time. The Kutch wetland boasts of some 30,000 common cranes, not to talk of the several other species of birds. The wetland was listed on the Ramsar site for a long time.”
He said as a member of the district level committee for the development of tourism in the border district, he had made some suggestions for the development of Chari-Dhand.
“It is shallow water body, which could be used to promote boating. This will also provide employment to the local people, whose main activity has been restricted to fishing till now,” he said.
Tiwari said there is also a suggestion to set up a Nature Interpretation Centre at the nearby Fully village, some 7-8 kilometresn from the wetland. "The centre will provide knowledge of the wetland to the tourists before they actually enter here. I have collected a large number of photographs of the area and have already given some 50 images to the forest department free of cost.
R L Meena, Kutch forest conservator said it would take some time to create facilities for the tourists at Chari-Dhand. "We have to prepare a plan first along with the estimate and submit the same to the government for approval and sanction of funds. The district administration has promised a part of the funds, but we have to work in a planned manner to bring out good results. We will also have to ensure that no fishing activity is carried out here," he said.
He added that in accordance with the new concept related to conservation of wetlands, local traditions will have to be respected. "The genuine interests of the affected people will have to be taken into consideration. We may engage local fishermen as boatmen or tourist guides to provide them alternative employment," he said.
Meena further said that the wetland was originally spread over 22,700 hectares (227 sq.km), out of which 80 sq km was the water filled area. He said there are also efforts to replace Gando Bawal (Prosopis juliflora) with useful trees like Khara and Mitha pilus (Salvadora oleoides and Saladora persica) on the periphery of the Chhari lake as part of the new conservation measures.
Incidentally, the forest department had originally proposed that Chari Dhandh be declared as the Kutch bird sanctuary because its much bigger in size than the more famous Bharatpur bird sanctuary in neighbouring Rajasthan. The state Wildlife Board agreed to the demand on June 26, 2002, but later it was decided to accord Chari-Dhand the status of a conservation forest, as it would be of greater benefit to the local populace, Tiwari added.