In a larger bid to open up Harike Pattan Bird Sanctuary to bigger tourism, the state forest department has allowed the entry of students to the nature trails inside the sanctuary. The district forest officer (wildlife) Dr M Sudhagar, has also confirmed that the department has sent a multi-crore project proposal to the Tourism Department to initiate tourism in the area.
However, the proposal has drawn criticism from animal welfare organisations. Dr Sandeep Jain, member of wildlife board and co-ordinator of Care for animals and protection of environment (CAPE) said: “This will disturb the natural habitat of the rare migratory birds, which come in lakhs every year only because it is removed from tourists.
Dr Sudhagar said: “A total of 8,600 hectares is dedicated to the bird sanctuary. We will make only 10 percent of it open to tourists. Only a project report has been submitted and the team has yet to visit Harike. This year we have started visit of students, wildlife experts and researchers, but no boating is allowed as of now. But we may start restricted boating by the end of the year. It is a well planned project with an aim to increase the number of migratory birds at this sanctuary.”
The confluence of Sutlej and Bear rivers take place at Harike and the department aims to show the point to tourists through boating and to allow them on the nature trail. Eco-huts will be the next proposal for overnight stay, which will be managed by villagers. “The hotels and eating joints will be outside the sanctuary, said Sudhagar, adding that the breeding point of birds will not be disturbed.
Last year more than one lakh migratory birds from Central Asia and Siberia arrived in the area this winter compared to just 79,000 two years ago. The census of birds will be done in the last week of January this year, to know the actual number.
The Harrike wetland and Harrike lake were formed by constructing head works across the Sutlej river in 1953. The largest wetland in Northern India, located in Tarn Taran, was declared a bird sanctuary in 1982 and is host to over 200 species of birds every winter.