Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Najafgarh Lake -A forgotten wetland in Delhi and its biodiversity

Lecture           : No 2 dated 10.3.18
Speaker          : Dr Sumit Dookiya Asst Professor GGIP University 
Topic              : Najafgarh Lake -A forgotten wetland in Delhi and its biodiversity

Brief Profile of speaker
Working as Assistant Professor, at Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi and teaching on various interdisciplinary issues of Biodiversity and Conservation at PG level. Main research area is Mammalian Ecology and Avian Biology. Also worked as Scientist-Ornithology in Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), worked as a Post Doctoral Fellow/Research Associate at Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, worked as Field Coordinator and Research Associate in Satpura-Maikal Range in Central India for evaluation of Tiger Census methodology. Also worked with the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) at Desert Regional Station, Jodhpur for faunal surveys of birds and mammals. Awarded as Young Scientist by Department of Science and Technology, New Delhi in 2010, and Wildlife Conservation Award-2016 by Carl Zeiss.

Highlights of the lecture

Wetlands Definition
Under Article 1.1 of Ramsar Convention, wetlands are defined as areas of marsh land or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres. It is called ‘Kidney of the landscape’ because of its character of purifying the water before reaching upto aquifers. It maintains ground water level and supports many ecological services. Besides its aesthetic and ecological wealth, it also supports large number of flora and fauna

Glorious history of Najafgarh Lake
The Najafgarh Jheel was formed by the Sahibi River which originates in the Aravalli Hills, near Jitgarh, Manoharpur, and the district of Jaipur in Rajasthan. After gathering volume over a hundred tributaries, the Sahibi River forms a broad stream around Alwar and Kotputali. It then enters the Rewari district in Haryana, near the city of Rewari, after which it re-enters first Rajasthan near Kot Kasim, and then Haryana, near the village of Jarthal.  The dry riverbed near Jarthal is still two kilometers wide. During light monsoon rainfall, the river's flat and sandy bottom absorbs all rainwater. During heavy rains, the river branches off into two smaller streams, finally reaching the outskirts of Delhi where the natural depression at Najafgarh became the reservoir of the overflow from the river, forming the Najafgarh Lake.  In past, till 1960, the water of the Sahibi River continued to flow out of the lake, through a narrow channel, into the river Yamuna. The lake also receives inflow from Gurgaon and Rohtak Districts as well as from south-west Delhi and has a total catchment of 906 Jheel named after a powerful Persian noble of the later Mughal court, Mirza Najaf Khan (1733-1782).

Important as water reservoir
The Jheel area has got flooded in the past, during the floods of 1958, 1964, 1978, 1988, 1995 and 1996. Its flash floods in 1964 and 1977 breached the Najafgarh nallah embankments and submerged urban tracts for over 100 days. Due to the low lying nature of the terrain it receives some amount of flood discharge in the monsoons. Important as water reservoir. The Jheel area has got flooded in the past, during the floods of 1958, 1964, 1978, 1988, 1995 and 1996.
Its flash floods in 1964 and 1977 breached the Najafgarh nallah embankments and submerged urban tracts for over 100 days. Due to the low lying nature of the terrain it receives some amount of flood discharge in the monsoons. 

Pre-draining history: A Vast lake
In 1960, the unfortunate complete draining of this lake, after widening of the Najafgarh drain by the Flood control and irrigation department of Delhi. The lake in many years filled up a depression more than 300 km2 in rural Delhi. Extremely rich wetland ecosystem forming a refuge for vast quantities of waterbirds and local wildlife. The lake was one of the last habitats of the famed and endangered Siberian Crane, reported till 1971, completely vanished from the Indian subcontinent. Before independence many British colonial Officers and dignitaries came in large parties for waterfowl hunting every season (Imperial Gazetteer of India).

The Najafgarh Jheel was earlier used to be submerged.
Under water throughout the year and evaporation and percolation were the only means for its disposal, until the construction of the Najafgarh Drain in the 19th century.  Najafgarh jheel is the point where the water expands in a 10 Sq km area due to a natural depression, to the south of the basin having an independent catchment of 219 sq. miles as quoted in the master plan of drainage of Najafgarh basin by flood control wing, Delhi 1976. After dragging of the Najafgarh Canal, inundation or submerged area reduced upto 7-8 sq. km. Northern side bund /embankment completely stopped water in major part of Delhi side and now lake is having maximum spread in Gurgaon side (Haryana).  Now about 38 big and small drains join Najafgarh canal as per the Drainage map of Delhi.

Will bird Sanctuary come up?
Potential to be developed as a bird sanctuary, though once proposal was also floated by Department of Tourism, Govt. of Delhi. It is close to Sultanpur National Park (just 2 km aerial distance) Serving as feeding ground for many storks, herons, egrets, goose and ducks.  Every week end more than 50 birders visit this area and visitor number increases with the onset of migratory birds. One of the favourite birding destination in Delhi.  Many social media groups conduct bird walks, and after disturbance at Okhla Sanctuary, thousands of migratory birds stay during winter months

Avian Diversity
Delhi is home of more than 400 species and more than 25% of the birds of Delhi are migratory.
As non-residents, they visit the city during specific times of the year, both to escape formerly unsuitable or unfruitful habitats, and to pursue a perceived opportunity for advancing ones survival. Najafgarh Wetland supports close to 200 birds, around half of Delhi’s total avian species

Rare birds
Siberian Crane: Till 1960, it was regularly seen.
Indian Skimmer: Major-General Hutson (1943-45) lists the species as frequenting rivers near Delhi (probably the Yamuna). Usha  Ganguly (1955) notes it only once near Dasna Jheel and terms it resident but not too common. Last reported by Vivek Menon and Tara Gandhi on 21st July 1991.
Smew: Last wintering season, spotted in Jhajjar (Haryana), however, according to records of AO Hume, the bird could be seen regularly at the Najafgarh drain till the late 19th century.
Oriental scops owl: A very small bird, was last seen in 1925 by Basil-Edwards till it was spotted once in Palam Vihar in 2013 and then at the Najafgarh drain in January 2015. 
Greater Flamingoes stay here almost 8-9 month in a year. Maximum was counted 800+ in July 2015 by team of GGSIPU.
Weaver Bird Delhi-NCR have 3 species of Weaver Birds. Baya Weaver, Black-breasted  Weaver, Streaked Weaver
Other birds Large flock of Black-tail Godwit , Black-necked Stork, Painted Stork, Saras Crane, Black Francolin

Faunal Diversity
> 30 species of Butterfly
> 25 species of Dragonflies and Damsel flies
>10 species of Fishes
Mammals like Jackal, Jungle Cat, Grey Mongoose, Small Indian Mongoose and Bluebull can frequently seen. Before going into oblivion, time to recognize it as a important wetland ecosystem. Need proper planning and identification as Important Bird Site for wintering as well as resident birds. Nature based Ecotourism. Complete Biodiversity assessment required and can be developed as Biodiversity Park in the line of YBP

Green Circle has started an Environmental Lecture Series in Dwarka New Delhi at Airforce & Naval Officers Society, Plot No 11 Sector 7 Dwarka on 10.2.2018 and there will be 24 lectures, one lecture every month on Second Saturday between 5.30 PM and 7.00 PM. All are welcome to attend

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