Uttar Pradesh must immediately stop the further draining of the Haiderpur wetland and ensure that dewatering the protected Ramsar site for farming needs takes place only when migratory birds are not nesting at the location, the Union environment ministry has directed. In response to a report published by Hindustan Times on January 21, which said the Uttar Pradesh irrigation department drained out the Haiderpur wetland, forcing tens of thousands of migratory birds to leave the most prominent migratory bird nesting site in western Uttar Pradesh, environment ministry officials said that they have issued directions to state government to halt any further dewatering.

The draining out was done under pressure from farmers who complained of water logging in their fields due to high groundwater level, state officials had admitted.

“We have obtained a response from concerned divisional forest officers along with the viewpoint of the irrigation department, which is reportedly co-administrator of this site,” the environment ministry said in its response to HT. “The diverse aquatic habitat thrives with lifeform and provides a significant abode for migratory waterbirds, important of which include more than 300 species of birds during winter season till end of Feb or mid-March. Based on above, necessary direction is being issued to State Govt. to stop further draining and henceforth plan the same in line with the migratory pattern of birds as mentioned in Ramsar Information System.”

Taking cognisance of the Union ministry’s direction, Uttar Pradesh minister of state (Jal Shakti Department), Dinesh Khatik, said: “The Irrigation Department has been directed to stop the dewatering of the wetland so that required water is available for the migratory birds.” Haiderpur wetland is a Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance, on the border of Muzaffarnagar and Bijnor districts in Uttar Pradesh. Ramsar sites come under wetland rules, 2017, which calls for maintaining the ecological integrity of a wetland. Key to a wetland is water, but also wetland vegetation. While wetlands can be temporarily dry, depending on factors like rainfall, intentionally draining them of water is against the core value of the wetland rules, experts said.

Due to sudden dewatering of the wetland, thousands of migratory birds left the wetland last week. The irrigation department drained out the water of the wetland in two days, starting January 10, according to Ashish Loya, a birder and daily visitor to the wetland for the past six years. “As a result, the migratory and other birds flew off,” Loya said. Usually the state irrigation department drains the water gradually in late January and February, Loya said, suggesting that the sudden draining of water this year could have shocked the birds.

Haiderpur is a human made wetland formed in 1984 by the construction of the Madhya Ganga Barrage on a floodplain of the Ganga river, according to the Ramsar Convention website. It is located within the boundaries of Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary. Haiderpur wetland provides a habitat for numerous animal and plant species, including more than 30 species of plants, over 300 species of birds, including 102 waterbirds, more than 40 fish species and more than 10 mammal species. Haiderpur also supports more than 15 globally threatened species, such as the critically endangered gharial, hog deer, black-bellied tern, Indian skimmer and gold mahseer. The site supports at least 25,000 waterbirds, and serves as a breeding site for the near-threatened Indian grassbird.

In all, India has 75 Ramsar sites. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. Under the Convention, parties agree to work towards wise use of all their wetlands; designate suitable wetlands for the list of Wetlands of International Importance and ensure their effective management; cooperate internationally on transboundary wetlands, shared wetland systems and shared species.