Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Residential colony construction against laws in wetland zone of Badha Lake disturbing fragile ecosystem of Fazilka, authorities silent

Sanskrit meaning of “Badha is putting someone to death so that others may be frightened, and it seems local real estate promoters doing the needful for the Fazilka residents to achieve similar cause by disturbing Fazilka’s fragile local ecological system by constructing residential colony within wetland[2] area of Badha Lake against many environmental and building bylaws. Local administration and concerned authorities are completely silent on this issue.

Yesterday, Fazilka city temperature was reported to be 47oC, highest of this season. “Global Warming”, has already started showing its impact in Fazilka region and this is primarily because of the destruction of significant areas of forest cover and wetland. Unplanned growth of concrete jungle in the form of residential units in wetland zone and nearby areas , resulted in degradation of bio-diversity.

In the year 1844, a Britisher Mr. Pat Van Agnew constructed his Bungalow (presently SDM office cum residence) on the bank of Badha Lake. He was impressed with the bio-diversity and environment of this area, later by purchasing land from Mian Fazal Watto, he founder beautiful city Fazilka in the thar desert region. Today, because of the criminal negligence of the concerned authorities, greedy deeds of the manhood and some self interest of the political leaders to win over vote bank; we have almost lose our vintage uniqueness Badha Lake, due to which our city came into existence.

Figure 1 :View of Badha Lake basin, people have encroached Badha lake area with huts

When author requested information about this upcoming colony within Badha lake zone from Municipal Council, Fazilka under Right of Information Act, 2005, Quiet revealing facts came into picture that this colony does not fall under municipal boundary limit and no formal permission for the colony has been obtained from any of the concerned authorities. This colony comes under the jurisdiction of Forest department Punjab and is a part of Badha village agricultural land. Demarcation of plots and construction of residences has already been started and green belt along Badha lake wetland zone has been deforested. Forest department is completely silent as well as no formal FIR about anybody has been lounged by the Forest department, and State pollution control department against cutting of trees and for conversion of wetland zone into residential colony without prior approval. People who booked their plots have no information from where they will get their sanitation, water supply and electric supply facilities. Figure 1 shows the encroachment of lake side area with temporary huts and other establishments.
Now a day’s dry Lake bed is a favorite spot for sand miners. Initially land has been illegally used for sand mining. Later, this has been regularized without considering its impact on the environment. Sand mining on river bed always leads to drying up of riverbeds soon after monsoon lowers the ground water table and increase salinity in ground water. Permission for sand mining from river bed from Punjab Irrigation Department under Environment Protection Act has not been obtained by any of the agency.

1. Violation of Laws

1.1 Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, 2006 by Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India from Punjab State Pollution Control Board, Patiala

Till today, no EIA screening report has been submitted to Punjab State Pollution Control Board to get environmental clearance for this colony. Impact on the ecology of Fazilka region and Badha Lake wetland due to construction of this colony has not been addressed. Figure 2 (plan view) clearly indicates the area under colony (in dashed) and the total area under Badha lake wetland basin.

1.2 Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 with amendments made in 1988

Red line in Figure 2 demarcates the Fazilka municipal council boundary. This area falls under the forest department jurisdiction. Green belt zone along Salemshal minor and adjacent area, as shown in Figure 2, has been deforested. No FIR cased under Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 against the developer of this land has been registered so far. Administration is completely silent on the compensatory Afforestation plan and approval of this colony

Figure 2: Rows of tree along Salemshal minor (Source: Google Earth)

1.3 The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972

Fauna of this area has been damaged due to depletion of green belt and water body, which provides natural habitat to birds like sparrows, peacocks, parrot etc. Peacock and many other rare species from this area have already been entered into endangered species list of Punjab wildlife department. So far, no strategy by the wildlife department has been formulated to protect the fauna of this area.

1.4 Punjab Apartment and Property Regulation Act, 1995 (PUDA)

The major obligations on the promoter under this Act are to obtain a license as a promoter, which includes approval of the layout plan of the colony and to develop the colony in accordance with the approval of the plan. The responsibility of providing internal services such as roads, street lights, water supply, sewerage, parks and green area is of the promoter. An estimate of expenditure on these works is made during the process of licensing and the promoter is required to furnish a bank guarantee of an amount equal to 25% of the estimate. Apart from internal development works the promoter is required to pay external development charges for integration of the colony to the services of the city on which colony is dependent and for improvement of urban infrastructure in that city. The quantum of the development charges varies from city to city.

PUDA website reveals that no such license by an individual/firm as a promoter for any of the colony in Fazilka region has been obtained. District Town Planner, Ferozepur is also not aware about any such colony.

1.5 Other Building Bylaws

This colony comes under the flood plain of and discharge basin of river Satluj (earlier this used to get its water feed from river Satluj) at the time of flooding.

In September, 1988 floods this entire area behind the Salemshal minor was submerged under water (shaded potion in Figure 2). Salemshal minor presently define municipal boundary limit of Fazilka and acting as a safety bund to protect Fazilka against flood. Planning residential colony in this flood plan where the plinth level of proposed houses is 1-2m below the existing High flood level (HFL) of this area is not only a violation of building bylaws but also a violation of special recommendations by Disaster Management Group, Government of India. No provisions of Green belt and park have been kept while planning this colony.

2 Fazilka’s Fragile Eco-system - Importance of Badha Lake Wetland

Till late 80’s Fazilka’s eco-system was perfectly balanced by three wetlands namely — Badha, Jhangar, and Ganj Bakhash (Figure 3). These three are among the 32 old natural wetlands in the state, which are now almost on the verge of disappearance mainly due to the unplanned development process that has transformed these sites into dry farmlands. Also the vote bank politics allows contractors to sell sand under the riverbed of Badha Lake.
In the year 2000, Punjab State Council for Science and Technology (PSCST) warned in their report to state environment department that the conservation of these wetlands is essential. However, at that time Deputy Commissioner of Ferozepur, Mr. Kulbir Singh Sidhu, assured of all efforts to retrieve these sites as the natural habitats of migratory birds. Till today long-term conservation measures by the state government on saving these wetlands has not been yet taken into action.

Jhangar wetland near the Nirmal checkpost on the international border has been substantially claimed by the local farmers. Although some birds arrive here around this time every year, their number is now declining due to changing ecological conditions. Ganj Bakhash is a wetland located at the Sadiqi checkpost near Pakka Chisti village. Interestingly, the site has now shrunk into a small lake, where a few ducks can be seen. Both these wetlands are surviving because defense forces in this area are performing their duties about the environment very well.
Badha wetland appears to be the worst hit, because of diverting Satluj river water to the adjacent state by the Central Water Commission, Government of India. “This has been done to undoubtedly win over vote bank, the diversion has made the lake fluoride-ridden, with an increase in the total dissolved solids in groundwater”, said Urja Purash of Uttrakhand Dr Bhupinder Singh, retired professor IIT Roorkee.

Figure 3: Location Map of Wetlands in Punjab (Source: Punjab State Council for Science and Technology)

3 Losses due to Badha Lake wetland to the Fazilka region

3.1 Damage to the Flora and Fauna of Fazilka region - National Bird (Peacock) and National Flower (Lotus)

The peacock population in Fazilka has already fallen down due to habitat loss, unplanned growth of concrete jungle in the form of residential units, contamination of food sources due to disposal of household waste and plastics nearby Badha Lake. Out of many only two peacocks have been reported alive in the Badha wetland area of Fazilka. Presently the Fazilka peacock entered into critically endangered species list of birds for this region. Ducks have also been disappeared from this wetland. This has in turn adversely affected on other declined species inside water.
Badha Lake was famous because of its Lotus (कमल) flower (Nelumbo nucifera L.). Lake was breeding centre for Lotus. As the complete lake catchment basin has been converted into dry farmland, many other aquatic plants like Cattlails, bulrushes, Sedges, Water Lilies, and floaters like duckweed have also been disapeared from the region. One senior citizen recalled his good old days spent on this lake, “we used to collect Kalalis (Fruit of Lotus, the seed cup) from lake and eat lotus seeds inside seed cup”; as the flowers, seeds, young leaves of lotus are all edible.

Figure 4: Lotus seed cup and seeds inside that

No countermeasure by the state government has been taken up to tone down the extent of damage caused to nature with this. This is the way how our concerned state and centre government departments along with local administration respect our National bird and flower.

3.2 Other Migratory Birds

In late 60s Badha lake wetland got popularity due to arrival of migratory birds there. Birds from Siberia used to come to this lake earlier. Badha Lake wetland area was popular as a small bird Sanctuary.

Palla's Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus) was one of the famous migratory birds at Badha Lake wetland. This lake was one of the breeding ground for Palla’s fish eagle after Harike-Pattan in Punjab. Due to drying up of Badha Lake and other wetland this bird has entered into International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resource’s (IUCN[3]) Red List of Threatened Species.

Figure 5: Palla's Sea Eagle

3.3 Ground Water Quality and Health

In an article by V K Joshi, former Director, Geological Survey of India (GSI) named Fazilka on fluoride red alert list. Recent studies have shown that the fluoride content in tube-well water in Fazilka is 6 to 12 mg per litre. Almost 70 per cent of Fazilka’s population suffers from dental decay. The Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) for fluoride content is 1-1.5 mg /l. This high content of fluoride further has been linked to aching joints, graying of hair, arthritis, and fluorosis both skeletal and dental has already taken over the disease list[4]. The Fazilka Civil Hospital is treating an average of seven fluoride-poisoned people every day[5]. After 60 years of Independence, Municipal Council of Fazilka is still pumping this highly sub-standard ground water to its residents for drinking.

Now a day’s farmers are spending on gypsum and zinc every year to counter the effects of increased salinity in groundwater. Salts in water also blocks percolation process that facilitates recharging of ground water, resulting in increased salt concentration of ground water.

Way Ahead....

Natural systems of ground water recharging through wetlands of the region has almost lost due to criminal negligence and greedy deeds of mankind and political leaders. Wetlands are rich in biological diversity and are recognized amongst the most productive ecosystems in the world. Wetlands are important in an account to regulate the hydrological cycle, maintain water quality by recharge of ground water, provide refuge to large number of endangered plants and animals, support diverse food chains & food webs and provide ground for migratory water fowl. This also helps in trapping energy and carbon dioxide[6].

The only ray of hope for Fazilka region people is recharging Badha Lake wetland with fresh water feed from river Satluj through existing networks of canal. This will not only maintain the bio-diversity, but also improve the ground water quality of this area. Come forward and save our region from “Climate Change”.


Navdeep Kumar Asija

M.Tech (Geotech and Geoenvironmental Engineering), IIT Delhi

Date: 10th June, 2007


[1] The Mahabharata, Santi Parva, Sections CCLIX to CCLXIV, Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

[2] “Wetlands are areas of marsh, fen, peat land or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salty, including areas of marine water, the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six meters. Wetlands may be either natural or manmade”.

[3] International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources


[5] Earth Island Journal, Winter 2005, Vol. 19(4)

[6] Ladhar S S.2002. Status of ecological health of wetlands in Punjab. India Aquatic Ecosystem Health & Management. Vol. 5(4) 457-465 pp.

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