Vetiver introduced in Morni – An Experiment Begins

Morni hills are composed of a fragile mix of clay, rocks and boulders and experience heavy erosion during the monsoons. Landslides are common, especially where the natural stability of hill slopes has been disturbed by cutting roads and paths into the hill, rendering the structure unstable. The sudden heavy rainfall towards the end of the monsoon season in September 2010 had caused devastating landslides all over the hills. The simple hill folks were shaken out of their slumber by the terrifying force of nature and were half-convinced by the dark prophecies of a fast approaching apocalypse. The monsoons in the following two years have been easier on these lower Shivalik hills but a calamity may be just around the corner.

The fragile hills, Tikkar tal  to Raipur Rani road

The fragile hills, Tikkar tal to Raipur Rani road

Landslide site at Gajan, Bhoj Balag, Morni hills (Sep 2010)

Landslide site at Gajan, Bhoj Balag, Morni hills (Sep 2010)

Landlide on Tikkar tal road, Morni hills (Sep 2010)

Landslide on Tikkar tal road, Morni hills (Sep 2010)

Roadslip, Tikkar tal road, Morni hills- the ecological challenges of human construction activity

Roadslip, Tikkar tal road, Morni hills- the ecological challenges of human construction activity

The devastation caused in Uttarakhand in 2013, by the sudden heavy rainfall playing havoc with a mountain terrain rendered vulnerable by unplanned construction and rampant deforestation, must serve as a wake-up call for the entire Himalayan region. We must urgently restore the green cover to the hills and provide them with a thick protective layer for preventing soil erosion that is increasingly assuming calamitous proportions during heavy rainfall. The slopes rendered unstable with human construction activity need to be stabilized with innovative vegetative solutions. This ‘Green Action Plan’ also holds the promise of mitigating Morni’s perennial problem of water shortage during the summer months. Greener slopes will slowdown the run-off of rainwater and will help conserve soil moisture and maintain the flow of natural springs during the dry season.

A survey of the erosion hot-spots in the Morni hills reveals that the land in most such locations is in a badly degraded state. The sharp slopes and poor soil conditions shall not support any immediate effort to reintroduce the native trees and shrubs that were once abundant in the area. The ruined ecology of these crumbling hills shall need to be ‘nursed’ back to health before a tree plantation can be attempted. The eroded hill slopes will need to be first covered with an appropriate ‘nurse’ plant that can sustain in the present adverse conditions and help rebuild the natural terraces by conserving soil and water. A micro-climate will gradually be created for reintroduction of the native fauna and the reestablishment of the natural ecology of the place. The search for a ‘nurse’ plant for the degraded Shivaliks has, of late, narrowed down to Vetiver, a wonder grass that has reportedly performed miracles in restoring eroded hill slopes all over the world.

Eroded hill side behind Tikkar tal resort- the challenge of sharp slope

Degraded hill side behind Tikkar tal resort- the challenge posed by sharp slopes and heavy erosion

Heavy erosion along Dhaman-Thapli road, Tipra-Morni hills

Heavy erosion along Dhaman-Thapli road, Tipra-Morni hills

 

The Vetiver Story:
Vetiver/ Khus Khus (Vetiveria zizanioides) is a tall, tufted, scented, perennial clump grass originating in South India, with long and narrow leaves and erect and stiff stems that grow to a height of up to 2 metres. The roots are dense and deep (can grow up to 15 feet deep) and have an average tensile strength of 75 Megapascals! The roots grow vertically and normally do not spread beyond the footprint of the crown of the plant. The roots yield an aromatic oil that is used as an ingredient by the perfume industry.

The vetiver grass offers a low cost vegetative solution for soil and water conservation. The grass is planted in a line along the contour terraces to form a narrow stiff hedge that slows down rainfall runoff down the slope, spreading it out evenly. The vetiver hedge acts like a sieve and traps runoff sediments to create natural terraces. The strong, deep roots bind the soil with ‘fingers of steel’ to improve its stability on sharp slopes. Vetiver has been used in over 100 countries, especially in the tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world, to stabilize hill slopes, flood embankments, highway and railroad embankments, as well as river and canal embankments.

Vetiver also has other natural advantages. It does not propagate like a weed and will grow only where it is planted. Its crown grows below the soil surface and is able to survive damage from forest fires and overgrazing. It’s perennial and can survive for decades. It is resistant to pests and diseases. It can survive periods of drought. It tolerates a wide range of soils including saline, acidic and rocky soils. The grass, however, does not tolerate permanent shade and harsh winters with ground frost.

The grass is used as fodder and is cut and fed to cattle during the high growth season. In north India, the aromatic khus-khus pads used in desert coolers made of dried roots of vetiver grass were a common sight during the summer season. The vetiver oil has also been used in traditional medicine as an anti-septic, anti-spasmodic etc.

Vetiver is propagated vegetatively by dividing the clump into slips with about 3 tillers each. The slips are then planted 10 to 15 cm apart in a line along the contour. The vertical interval between the successive rows of the vetiver hedge depends upon the slope, soil type and precipitation. Generally, sharper the slope and heavier the rainfall, shorter the vertical distance between hedgerows. The propagation is generally done during monsoons when water is abundant. Extended dry spells between the rains sometimes need supplementary watering in the initial phase.

The Experiment:
The Vetiver story, however, seems too good to be true. The Tramp, hence decided to conduct a limited experiment by planting Vetiver slips on a small vacant patch at the Tikkar Cottage to see how the miracle grass fares in the hard, rocky, termite infested and unforgiving clay of Morni hills. Sourcing the grass from Kerela was the obvious challenge. Help was at hand from Sh. M P Singh, an engineer turned environmentalist, who has been working with vetiver for some years and has successfully employed it for stabilizing degraded slopes and for greening hillocks at Anandpur Sahib. The last minute vacillation was brushed aside by an enthusiastic young man who has taken up the Green cause for the Tramp. The Vetiver slips have been planted and if the ‘Living Steel’ grows even half as well as the hype, the experiment shall be scaled up to a full-fledged Vetiver nursery in the following year. An erosion site shall be ‘adopted’ for reclamation with Vetiver with the involvement of the village Gram Panchayat and the assistance of the forest department. An effort will also be made to persuade a local farmer to plant a vetiver hedge along the contour terraces of his hill-side fields to assess the promised impact in reducing water run-off and conserving soil.

Vetiver in Morni-a beginning

Vetiver in Morni-a beginning (12-7-13)

Vetiver slips ready for planting

Vetiver slips ready for planting

Experimental Vetiver nursery at Tikkar Cottage, Rasoon, Morni hills

Experimental Vetiver nursery at Tikkar Cottage, Rasoon, Morni hills

August 2013

5 weeks through the monsoons, the grass had picked up well. Growth was better wherever the sunlight was adequate.

Vetiver- 5 weeks later

Vetiver- 5 weeks later (20-8-13)

October 2014

20 months and two monsoons later the vetiver plants at Morni have all survived but the growth is negligible.

Vetiver, Tikkar Cottage (Oct 2014)

Vetiver, Tikkar Cottage (Oct 2014)

This in sharp contrast to the impressive growth in a farm in village Sona near  Maili Dam in Hoshiarpur in the Shivalik foothills. The vetiver saplings were divided into two lots, with one being planted in rocky soil strewn with gravel at Morni and the other at Sona farm. The growth at Sona shows that the plant holds promise but its success in poor soil and rocky conditions remains to be tested.

Vetiver (20 months growth) at Sona, Shivalik Foothills, Hoshiarpur

Vetiver (20 months growth) at Sona, Shivalik Foothills, Hoshiarpur

 

References:-
1. An Introduction to Vetiver Grass Technology, Richard G. Grimshaw

Solar Electrification Programme- The Experience in Morni hills

The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, Government of India launched a scheme for the electrification of remote villages with renewable technologies for which the Central Government would provide 90% financial assistance the balance cost being borne by the concerned nodal agency/ village panchayat. Villages/hamlets that were not to be electrified with the conventional grid by 2012 were eligible for assistance under this scheme.

Morni hills have a number of dhanis (hamlets) in remote areas that can be accessed only by narrow hill paths running through difficult terrain. It is not economically feasible to cover these dhanis through a conventional grid as such dhanis typically comprise a handful of houses that are scattered over a large hilly area. These dhanis were chosen for electrification under this scheme by the Department of Renewable Energy, Government of Haryana (HAREDA). Electrification was done by employing the ‘Solar Photo-Voltaic’ (SPV) Technology. The programme was implemented for a total cost of Rs. 4.54 Crores in 3 phases from July 2006 to August 2009. Electricity was provided to nearly 4000 persons living in 776 households spread over 286 remote dhanis. Three type of systems based on the SPV Technology were installed under the programme:

  • 5 Kilowatt Solar Power Plants.  SPV panels were installed at a sunny location and the electricity generated was used to charge a battery bank that then provided electricity to the households for limited hours during late evening/ night hours. The batteries were installed inside small rooms and the individual houses were connected to this ‘powerhouse’ through a network of electric cables. 7 such plants were installed under Phase I of the programme at a cost of Rs. 25 lacs per plant. The power plants were covered under an annual maintenance contract for 5 years, during which period they performed well. The plants have, however, fallen into a state of disrepair after the expiry of the AMC with the batteries requiring replacement.
Solar power plant, Kohlan, Thandog panchayat, Morni hills

Solar power plant, Kohlan, Thandog panchayat, Morni hills

  • Solar-powered Home Lighting Systems (HLS).  A 37 Watt SPV panel is provided to the household that generates electricity to charge a 12 Volt 40 AH battery that provides electricity for running two CFL Lights and a DC fan for 2-3 hours.
  • Solar-powered Street Lighting Systems (SLS).
Solar-Lighting-System

Solar Lighting Systems

BHOJ

PHASE I- JULY 2006

PHASE II-NOV 2007

PHASE III- AUG 2009

HAMLETS COVERED UNDER ELECTRIFICATION PROGRAMME

TIPRA

SOOG,  TIPRA BALI RAM, SARARI

KHEEL (SUG), BASYARI, JORI, BATERA,

JAGYANA, BAGA, BET, BHAUN, GHAT ( DHAMAN), KATTALI, PALENEE, THAR-I, II; DHAKORI, BANCHI RUG, BHAGHAN

KHATA KHIL,  DHAMAN KHIL,  BRADAL(REWARI)

KUDANA

DUNDAL-UPLI, BAGWALI, LEDH-BIHLA, LOHARON,  BHAYAL-UPLI

TIBBE PUR, THANDOLI, BAG, BHAYAL NICHALI, CHANDUWALA, LAIYAN, DHARLI, KHEEL-I, DURAN, JAMANWALA, DAHAN UPLI, DAHAN NICHALI, JHUNDA WALA, BAGRAIRA, GADLA, MAGRA, THAPLI, SARANGA, KHEEL-IV, DILUWALA, RETI, DUNDAL NICHALI, KUDANA

GAURI (DHIN), THALAP, TAL (RETA),  JAMAN WALA, KHIL DUNDAL

PONTA

KHADOON, BANSWALA I, II, III; BANA I, II, III

SHER GUJJARA BASS, KHETRA-I, II; KATLI KA BASS I, II;  NARWAR KA BASS, CHITEWALI, GADDA, KALYANI, GUMLA, DABRAWALA, KUMBWALA, BANSKA-I, II; GUMBANJPUR, THAPPALPUR, LASWA-I, II, III; BHERIWALA-I, II; DHAKWALA, SIRSWALI, KHAIRI, SANGDAIL, CHIRWALA, TALWAD

LASAVA, SATIYAWALA TAPAR, DABOR KA BASS,  KARUN/BANA,  BASS GUGGA MARI(KATLI KA BASS), DABRA WALA, DHARRE KA BASS (BHUTIWALA), NIMBWALA(BAINS KA BASS),  SHER GUJRAN KA BASS(MURTI DEVI), MANDWALA(BASS WALA)

RAJPURA

CHUHARPUR, BUDRIYO, BOLNI (TURON VI),

RANA UPLA, SHRI NAGAR, DHAKWALA (BUDRIYON), GEETOO KA BARA, TADAWALA,

RIYAL WALA (TURON), NAYUR WALA BASS

( SHER JVAIN)

BALDWALA

PARLA JIYA, GHAT WALA BASS, NALIYAN WALA,  AMLE WALA BARA

RAJPURA

NAGGAL

NICHLI MANJYON, DANIR, BUNGHA, KYAR/ KOHLAN, BANYALA KHIL, MAROULI, CHALON, SINGHWALA, BENYALA, SILLY, BAJRIWALA

KATLI, MANJYON-UPLI, CHYOG, MALOTHI, TIBRA(CHADYANA), KYAR(DHANIR), HARAGHAT, HARD KA DAL, SAPAR-I,II

RAJJI TIKKRI

UPRLI KATLI, JOHAR (THANDOT), NICHLI THANDOT , DHANIR, BUNGA, THAPNA(BATOLI), PATHIYA(KHAWA), DUNGLI JOHRI

PREM KA KHEEL, KYAR BASS KALYANA), SAHYON BASS, BARA GHAT, HAHTIA BASS, PYOG (SEHLONBASS),

HARD KA DAL

UTRON

HATHIA BASS BANAH, BARARA BASS, BHIWAR BASS BAROTE PAR, CHARKHI WALA, CHANYANA BASS, CHOHAR BASS TAL, BARA GHAT, CHOHAR BASS (HATHIA )

GULARIWALI, KATAL,

GHATA, NEEMWALA, BARIWALA, SERTA,

DABSU, HARTA, JAMLA, TANDA, BANEE MANDIR

DABSU

THOREWALA-BELA, GHARAT BELA

CHHANDOO, CHHANDORA,

RUG, SALYON, REHDUA, CHATHIYA, JOG, AMAR KUND

THANDOG

BIYULA-II, KOHLAN(KAYAR)-II, MAROLI KHED, CHALON-II, SALYON RADUR

DHARTI

BANGHAR, SIRMADA

CHHAN WALA, SILLI, DAL, KHEEL, BARIWALA, DABLA, UMRI,

BARIWALA, SIRMRA, DHAL,  MOPHAL, BERHERA, DAMANI, CHAKYANA , KHANA

KOTHI

DAKAR

BAROR, LANA, BALYURI, BIJYON, TAPAR, PYOG, PAPROLA, KHAVYON, JANJYAR, AMRI, JOHAR

DANDOLI, DANDOLI(ODAR), SOON, DANDOLI(KHEEL), KOTHI, JAMNYAR, BAROR, PATHROTI(LADYAR), DANDOLI( SIRE KA BASS), FERISAIR

NAITA

JORI, SHARDA

NAID

BAGH, KALYANI RUG, RUG, PATOG BARMU, DABSU, KATAL TALI (MOPHAL), KHARUN, PLASI NADBEL, KATAL TALI, MAROG, SAIDA BHOUDI

MATAUR

MAWAS

BERLA UPLA, JAUN PUR, GUJRIWALA, JOHAR, JASPUR

BAWRI WALA, GUJRI WALA, BHUHAR KATLI

PLASRA

KHOPAR I, II

KALTI(AMBOVA), INDIRAWALA(KHAIRI),

BAG, KHAJUWALA(LED),

PLASARA-II(UPLA), III;

KHOPAR – PART-II

KOTI-DARDA

KUDAL

GHATI, SOYEN, KHANYARA, MANJEKA, SONTHAL,

KYAR KHEEL, THAR-I. DALANA. BHALYON, THAR-II, RUNJA

BAYEN, BHOHN,  GLOR(KATHI), CHAKLA, GARDYANA

BALAG

GHAT DAAL

JABYAL

KAMBAL DERA-I. KATAL, KISANPURA, KAMBAL DERA-II, JAKHRO, DUNGI BAISAKHI

COVERAGE

HAMLETS

45

149

92

HOUSEHOLDS

305

320

151

POPULATION

1564

1652

682

SYSTEMS INSTALLED

HLS

221

336

151

SLS

110

208

99

5 KW POWER PLANT

7

COST IN RUPEES (

CRORES)

2.5

1.38

0.66

4.54

While the initial experiment with Solar-powered electrification has been a mixed experience in Morni, yet improvements in the quality of batteries and introduction of LED based lighting systems promises to make the technology more popular in the coming years.

Water Harvesting Dam: Dullopur

The earthen dam at Dullopur is located in the foothills of Morni and provides water for irrigating fields lying downstream of the dam. The dam has created a large lake that is tucked away in the hills between the Tirlokpur and Dullopur villages.

Water Harvesting Dam at Dullopur, Morni foothills

Water Harvesting Dam at Dullopur, Morni foothills

 

Water Harvesting Dam: Muwas

Muwas is a small hamlet that falls under the Sabilpur panchayat and is located deep inside the scrub forest in the foothills of Morni. The village can be accessed by driving along the dry rocky bed of the nadi that flows between Aasrewali and Belwali villages. A large earthen dam has been built across a choe to create a reservoir in the foothills. The village is located atop a small hillock at some distance from the dam and the dam does not appear to cater to the immediate water needs of the locals. It has, however, created an impressive water body that would definitely be frequented by the wildlife in the area.

Water Harvesting Dam at Muwas, Morni foothills

Water Harvesting Dam at Muwas, Morni foothills (Photo courtesy Zorawar)

Water Harvesting Dams: Dams near Kamballah-Katli

A series of earthen dams have been built across seasonal choes to create a number of large ponds near Kmballah village that lies on the Parwallah – Tikkar road that links the Tikkar tals directly to Raipur Rani without first having to negotiate the climb to Morni. A dam overlooks the Guga-Marhi temple at the outskirts of the Kamballah (also Kaimwallah) village.

Water Harvesting Dam near Guga Marhi Temple at Kamballah,Morni foothills

Water Harvesting Dam near Guga Marhi Temple at Kamballah,Morni foothills

Another freshly constructed earthen dam lies about a kilometre up north-west along the road leading to Tikkar village. The earthen embankment is fairly high and wide and has created a pond of considerable size.  A large amount of mud from the embankment has been washed downstream by the water overflowing through the spill-way.

Dam near Katli on the road to Tikkar village

Dam near Katli on the road to Tikkar village

Embankment at Dam near Katli

Embankment at Dam near Katli

Worrisome signs of early erosion of earthen embankment

Worrisome signs of early erosion of earthen embankment

 

 

 

Water Harvesting Dams: Aasrewali Dams

The earthen dam at Aasrewali created a small sized reservoir that initially provided water for fields lying downstream. The irrigation pipes are, however, now buried under silt and the reservoir now serves as a watering-hole for the village cattle and the wildlife.

Aasrewali Dam

View of Aasrewali Village from Dam

Spillway Aasrewali Dam

Small Bee Eater at Aasrewali reservoir

A second, much larger reservoir has been created more recently in the hills deep in the scrub forest across the seasonal rivulet that flows past the Aasrewali village. This reservoir provides water to the fields through pipes that are as yet functional and not rendered inoperative by siltation. The utilization of water does, however, lead to the reservoir runing dry in summers.

Aasrewali lake at main check dam

Lake at Aasrewali main check dam

Fields irrigated by Aasrewali check dam

The Aasrewali reservoirs have proved a boon for the wildlife during the dry summer season and are frequented by Barking deers, Neelgai, Goral, Langurs, Jackals, Sambars and the lurking leopards.

Water Harvesting Dams: Lessons from Bharal, Bhoj Mataur

A water harvesting dam was built on the ‘Upali Khala’, a seasonal choe emerging from the Mandana hills near Bharal, a hamlet of Bhoj Mataur falling on the Jalah road. Pipes were laid out to provide water for the fields lying downstream of the dam.

As per the locals, the dam got silted in the second year itself. The silt submerged the mouths of the pipes and rendered the irrigation network of galvanized pipes useless. The height of the dam wall was then raised to restore the storage capacity. The locals complained that the expenditure was wasteful as the locals were unable to draw any benefit from the reservoir. The dam also got repeatedly breached during the rains and was repaired a number of times. A breach that occured in the rains in 2011 awaits repairs and a narrow stream of clear, clean water falls through it to the pool below and runs down in a trickle through the choe. A woman grazing her cattle in the choe area complained that the dam had blocked the natural pathway along the choe to the upper slopes that was used by the women for collecting grass and fuel-wood. There is no alternate passage as the dam is flanked by steep slopes with thorny scrub.

Bharal Dam

The Breach in the Dam Wall

Pool under Bharal Dam

Choe at Bharal

The Dead End- Dam wall blocks grazing passage along choe

Bharal Dam

Vulture Conservation Breeding Centre, Pinjore

The vulture has been associated with death and decay across cultures. The forbidding, ghoulish look of an ugly bald headed bird feeding voraciously on a decaying and foul-smelling carcass is a repelling site. This was probably the reason why the sharp fall in vulture population sometime in early 90s was noticed so late.It was only in late 90s that the Bombay Natural History Society documented the catastrophic decline in vulture population drew the worldwide attention of  naturalists and wildlife experts to the grave threat to nature’s most efficient scavengers. The numbers in India fell from an estimated 40 million to barely 60,000 by the start of the new millenium. The sharp decline in the population is now reliably attributed to the use of diclofenac as a veterinary medicine that has proved lethal to this scavenging bird. Of the nine species of vultures that are recorded from the Indian subcontinent, the worst hit were the three belonging to the genus ‘Gyps’: the White-backed vulture (Gyps bengalensis), Long-billed vulture (Gyps indicus) and Slender-billed (Gyps tenuerostris) vultures that were until the 80s by far the most populous species in India.

Critically Endangered Vultures

A ‘Vulture Conservation Breeding Centre’ was established at Pinjore, Haryana in September 2001 by Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) in collaboration with the Haryana Forest Department with financial and other support from the Darwin Initiative for the Survival of Species Fund of the Government of UK, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB),the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the National Birds of Prey Trust, UK. The centre is spread over 5 acres of land in the Morni foothills at village Jodhpur, on the fringe of the Bir Shikargarh Wildlife Sanctuary. The campus has a five foot high perimeter fence.

VCBC

Some 150 odd vultures are housed at the centre including the White-backed vultures, Long-billed vultures, Slender-billed vultures, and Himalayan griffons. All the vultures have a plastic ring, a wing tag, and a microchip transponder for individual identification. These birds have been collected by collecting nestlings from breeding areas and trapping juveniles.The trappers entice the birds with carcasses and then trap the feeding birds by applying an extremely sticky glue on the feathers with the help of a long pole. Birds have been brought in from Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Delhi and Haryana.Injured birds are brought in from Gujarat, where birds get entangled with the glass-coated kite strings during the annual kite flying competetion at Ahmedabad and often end up with serious injuries.

The centre has ‘Nursery’ aviaries for providing nest like environment for rearing of nestlings.The ‘Hospital’ aviaries are for the injured and sick birds. The ‘Quarantine’aviaries hold the new birds that are brought to the centre for 45 days.Then there are large ‘Colony’ aviaries that allow the birds to do wing exercises by flying from one end to another. The birds feed communally on carcasses, exactly as they do in the wild. The ‘Holding’ aviaries are intermediate between Quarantine and Colony aviaries. The aviaries are very modest-looking, no-frills structures with the environmentalists focussing their resources only on the functional aspects. The vultures nest on shelves made of woven-jute that are much like the cots used in the Indian countryside.

VCBC Aviary

The behaviour of birds is studied through CCTV to minimize human contact. Vultures feel threatened by human presence and vomit a foul smelling bilous substance to discourage approach. Excessive contact with humans proved detrimental in a similar Condor breeding programme in USA where the ‘farm-bred’ Condors would return to the Breeding Centre despite having being released in the wild, as they were unable to manage without their human care-givers.

VCBC- Observation through CCTV

The centre has a State-of-the-Art Laboratory for conducting bio-chemistry studies and tests on birds and for testing presence of diclofenac in animal carcasses. Vultures are fed twice a week on carcasses of freshly slaughtered (and skinned) goats from the goat herd reared for the purpose on the Centre, with each adult getting 4 KG of meat per week. The vultures are extremely social creatures and all vultures feed together. Fights are extremely rare with the hungrier vulture being allowed to feed first! They bathe together in small-baths kept in the aviaries after feeding. The birds refuse to bathe if water is dirty and has not been changed!  Perches have been created and positioned strategically to recreate a natural environment inside the aviaries. The aviaries are not disturbed and are cleaned only once a month to remove bones of goat carcasses fed to the vultures.

The breeding programme focused on forming a founder population of vultures of each of the threatened species in the first phase. The vulture starts breeding at 4 to 7 years of age. Early efforts at breeding proved discouraging as the first two eggs failed to hatch in January 2006. The breeding progamme received a major breakthrough with the successful hatching of two chicks in 2008. Vibhu, a vulture chick hatched on January 20, 2008 after 52 days of incubation and left its nest after 118 days of nestling period. Phoenix hatched on March 5, after 57 days of incubation and left the nest on July 8 after 126 days of nestling period. As many as 45 chicks have since been successfully hatched both naturally as well as in incubators. A difficulty with breeding of vultures in captivity is that vultures are monogamous birds and they maintain the loyalty of conjugal lives till deaths. Only one egg is expected from a pair in one season. The breeding centre circumvents this problem by employing a method called “double clutching”. While the mother lays only one egg at a time yet if that egg is removed from its nest within a few days of laying, the mother gets tricked into laying another egg. The first one is put into an artificial incubator and monitored round the clock till it hatches. The temperature in the incubation unit has to be constantly controlled and the egg has to be delicately rolled over.
The centre is run by a dedicated team led by the Principal Scientist Dr. Vibhu Prakash from the Bombay Natural History Society , who was amongst the first to notice vulture deaths in the mid 90s. Dr. Prakash is an expert on raptors and has spent 30 years of his life in the study of birds. He has also worked with the famous ornithologist Dr. Salim Ali.

The Centre has an ambitious target of breeding and releasing a 100 pairs by 2012 in an identified area where the use of diclofenac has been banned. The birds would be released with a solar-powered GPS tag that would keep conveying the location of the bird for a period of three years. The experts from the Centre affixed one such tag to a Himalayan Griffon trapped in Bari-Sher area of Morni. The vulture flew till as far as Mongolia before returning to Bari-Sher in the winter.

The team was confronted with a sudden and unforeseen challenge when a large bee-hive in the close vicinity of the campus was attacked by a honey-buzzard. Swarms of angry bees descended upon the aviaries stinging as many as 16 vultures. This kind of attack on vultures was completely unheard of. The team has now worked out a treatment for bee-stings for the vultures in the eventuality of a fresh bee attack. The Bir Shikargarh Wildlife Sanctuary that surrounds VCBC is full of bee hives.

Bee hive, Bir Shikargarh WLS threat to VCBC

The challenges before the centre include the tedious and long drawn process of breeding and the murmur of protests by some environmentalists over the collection of nestlings and trapping of adults. It remains to be seen whether this novel and dedicated effort is able to save the fabled ‘Jatayu’ from extinction.

VCBC Brochure

Brochure on Artificial Incubation

VCBC Location

Water Harvesting Dams: Experience at Bunga

Morni Hills receive an average annual rainfall of 1200 mm and 80% of it is received during the 3 monsoon months. Most of the precious rainwater is lost as run-off and it drains into the Ghaggar and Tangri rivers that originate in these hills. These rivers flow torrentially during the rains causing havoc in Ambala and Patiala that lie downstream only to run dry thereafter until the next rains. The Shivaliks are low, fragile hills of mud and are prone to erosion and land slides. The sub-tropical, dry-deciduous forest cover of the hills has been facing degradation over the past century due to pressure from excessive grazing and fuel wood extraction by a community completely dependant on rainfed crops and livestock rearing for meeting their survival needs. It was realized that the forests could not be saved without reducing the dependence of the local communities and efficient water management held the key to the problem. There was a need for harvesting the rainwater for providing a year round, regulated supply of water for meeting the crop, livestock and drinking water requirements. Increased availability of water during the crop growing season would increase the productivity of agriculture and the availability of green fodder that would help reduce the dependence on the surrounding forests. As part of this effort a series of earth fill dams have been constructed in the past 3 decades across seasonal nalas all over the Shivalik region including the Morni hills, for harvesting the rain water in the monsoon months to provide a water source during the dry season.

The local village community was involved in providing labour for the earth excavation in the submergence area and also for the subsequent management of the dam. The dams provided a major boost to the crop yields and availability of fodder and the cost of construction of dams was believed to have been recovered in 3 to 4 years due to increased crop yield and increased milk production. The daily drudgery of women folk in carrying water in pots from distant watering holes was significantly reduced. The landless got employment during the constrution phase and subsequently as farm hands. The gains were, however, shortlived as most reservoirs silted up within 10-15 years. Desilting is a costly affair especially where local communities fail to pitch in with their resources and look to the State for all their solutions. The problem of siltation is compounded by damage to the protective green cover by fuel wood extraction and excessive grazing in the catchment area of the dam that makes the soil loose and susceptible to rain water erosion. Plantation of soil binding grasses and shrubs and trees together with building of stone check dams help reduce siltation. The local community has to build social pressure against over-exploitation of forest resources.

One such water harvesting dam was built across a nala at Bunga in the Morni foothills in 1984, at a cost of 40 lac rupees, thereby creating a large reservoir with 60 ha.metre storage capacity.The 115 metre long, 14 metre high dam, however, got silted over the years until 10 metres of height was lost to silt and the storage capacity of the reservoir was reduced to less than 25% of the original level. The dam wall was then raised by 2 metres in 2003 to increase the storage to 27.56 ha. metres. A 3.7 metre high coffer dam with a storage capacity of 2.42 ha.metres was built upstream on the nala to check the flow of silt into the reservoir. The Bunga villagers saved the dam in August 2004 when 3 days of continous rain breached the coffer dam and the spill way of the main rervoir could not cope with the heavy inflow. The villagers sand bagged the embankment and lowered the spill way by removing its top layers to facilitate faster spill over and to reduce pressure on the dam. Today, the openings for the pipes laid for irrigation are buried under silt and the dam does not provide water for irrigation. The lake serves the purpose of a large village pond and is used for meeting the water needs of the cattle by the villagers. The lake has led to raising of water table from 550 feet to 450 feet thereby lowering the cost of boring tubewells. Most of the smaller, natural village ponds remain full to capacity for most part of the year.

A smaller reservoir was created by a second dam built in 1986 and an extensive network of pipes was created for carrying water to the fields lying downstream. The pipes openings are, however, covered by silt.

The two lakes have developed into minor eco-systems and the wetlands today have a considerable bird population. The lakes are a source of water during the dry summer months for the wild animals. Teams of grey langurs can be frequently spotted drinking water from the lake. Leopards, jackals etc have been sited in the forest around the lakes. The dams need to be protected for their beneficial impact on ecology of the area. The benefits for wildlife conservation need to be studied and properly documented.

Bunga main reservoir (April, 2012)

Bunga small reservoir

Spillway and irrigation pipes at smaller reservoir

Grey Langur family drinking water at Bunga lake

View of plains from Bunga dam

Bunga Village

Bunga Dam

Reference:
1. The Impact of Water Harvestin Dams and Project Experience by Dr. S.S. Grewal (2008)

2. Indirect Economic Impacts of Dams: Case Studies from India, Egypt and Brazil, Editors: Ramesh Bhatia, Rita Cestti, Monica Scatasta, RPS Malik. The World Bank and Academic Foundation, 2008,

Bir Shikargarh Wildlife Sanctuary

Bir Shikargarh Wildlife Sanctuary is being established over an area of 767 hectares and notice was issued on 28th July 2011 to invite objections/suggestions to the draft notification by the Ministry of Environment and Forests. The area included is situated in the foothills of Morni along the Kaushalya river and has thick Khair forests and plantations of eucalyptus and teak.The area forms the habitat of the leopard,cheetal, sambar,langur, hyaena, fox, jackal,mongoose, porcupine etc. An area of 3 KM around the sanctuary shall form the eco-sensitive zone and shall have restrictions on change in land use etc. The eco-sensitive zone shall include areas of some 50 odd villages including Chandimandir, Burj Kotian, Mallah, Tibbi, Haripur etc.

The wildlife sanctuary status shall, however, need to be followed up with some active intervention to protect the wildlife found in this pocket forest at the foot of the Morni and Himachal hills. Interaction with researchers at the Vulture Conservation Breeding Centre located on the fringe of the sanctuary revealed that the forest was populated with packs of wild dogs who attacked and hunted the cheetal and sambars that occasionally came down from the hills. The dog packs can successfully bring down large sambar stags by attacking as a team. Deers are also lost to road accidents on the road that cuts through the sanctuary. The state transport buses can be seen being driven at break-neck speeds through the empty forest road. The blaring pressure horns are a nuisance to the animals and humans alike. Leopard has been spotted and photographed in this area. The forest is also very rich in bird life. Bee-hives are found in abundance.

Bir Shikargarh WLS

Draft Notification I

 

Draft Notification II

Draft Notification III

Draft Notification IV

Draft Notification V

 

Eco-Sensitive Zone of Bir Shikargarh

Morni Wildlife Sanctuaries

The notification may put an end to the speculation about the future of the stone crushers operating along the Kaushalya river bed in Burj Kotian-Chandimandir Area. The Hon’ble Supreme Court vide its order dated 27-2-12 in SLP (C) NO. 19628-19629 of 2009-Deepak Kumar etc.(Petitioners) Versus State of Haryana and Others etc.(Respondents) has directed that prior clearance of MoEF is needed for grant of leases for minor minerals by States/UTs. It is unlikely that any such clearance shall be granted by MoEF for mining in areas falling in the Eco-Sensitive Zone of Bir Shikargarh Wildlife Sanctuary. Thus the 500 acre odd area of Burj-Kotian and Chandimandir that witnessed rapacious mining for sand and stone along the river bed of Kaushalya until the intervention of High Court (and later the Apex Court) shall finally be spared further damage to its fragile ecology. The Forest Department should consider plantation in this area to restore the forest cover that has been destroyed by the mining activity.

Stone Crusher Zone-Burj Kotian/ Chandimandir