Satajan Wetland, located on the bank of Ranganadi river on the outskirts of North Lakhimpur, is known for the large presence of the migratory and residential birds in the winter season but the number of birds visiting the wetland is decreasing this year.
Due to growing presence of picnic parties, uncontrolled sand mining and boulder as well as gravel and pebble extractions on Ranganadi river bed coupled with daily movements of trains, the once famed sanctuary of migratory birds is facing extinction.
The authorities concerned, however, have allegedly not taken any steps to save the wetland.
Located 27°12’36″North and 94°2’56″East and about 7 km away from North Lakhimpur in the junction of National Highway-15 and the Dejoo-Kimin Road, the wetland had regular visitors like Large Whistling Teal, White Breasted Water Hen, Bronze Winged Jacana, Indian Purple Moorhen and Coots over the years.
Endangered White Eyed Pochard, a migratory bird from the Siberian Pacific belt, was also sighted in the wetland.
It is a unique habitat of aquatic flora and fauna covering an area of 34 acres of land. Out of the total area of the wetland, 21 acres of land belongs to Northeast Frontier Railway.
The wetland is crossed by the rail tracks of NF Railway’s Rangia-Murkongchelek route which remained dormant for a long period till 2015 during its meter gauge system and subsequently during the gauge conversion work.
But since 2015 running of three regular passenger trains and numerous freight services have been causing frequent noises leaving the avian visitors scared and disturbed resulting in decline of migratory birds this year.
Earlier surveys conducted by various conservationist groups like Asian Water Bird Census of Indian, Bird Conservation Network and Bomabay Natural History Society etc. had recorded as many as 34 species of residential and 13 species of long distance and altitude migratory birds and more than 25 species of fish fauna in Satajan wetland during 2007-08 .
However the existence of the wetland was contested by some local people who had the opinion that Satajan was created after the great earthquake of 1950 which destroyed revenue land belonging to them.
The claim that the earthquake changed the course of Ranganadi river bringing a stream of it to their lands forming the present wetland.
The villagers formed an NGO and demanded Satajan wetland to be cleared from its aquatic plants and reeds to transform them into a large fishery project to generate income.
Therefore a PIL was filed against that demand at Gauhati High Court in 2008 by some nature lovers from North Lakhimpur. The Guwahati High Court delivered its verdict in favour of the wetland vide its notification Memo No.690-595/PIL Dated 24-02-2010 and ordered the department concerned of state government to take a decision with regard to constitution of Bird Sanctuary/Community Reserve in the water body of Satajan.
But apathy by the state departments to uphold the court’s verdict in the last eight years have taken a heavy toll on this once famed yet endangered wetland with growing number of cases of poaching, illegal fishing and catching of birds with fishing nets.
In 2011 on the occasion of World Environment Day, rare Satphool, an exotic flower once found in Sadiya was planted by Dr Prabin Saikia, retired Head of the Department, Assamese, Bihpuria College and a conservation enthusiast.
The flower which has been closely associated with Assamese folk culture and extraction of salt in Sadiya in the past was in extinct and was nurtured by Dr Saikia in his botanical garden named Bon-Tirtha earlier.
The then Lakhimpur Deputy Commissioner and internationally acclaimed environmentalist, Dr. Anwaruddin Chawdhury planted the aquatic plant on this wetland on that day. But just within four weeks of that plantation of the rare Satphool, the Satajan wetland was found with dumped plastic bottles, wrappers, beer bottles and cans and other thrashes and garbage pausing threat to the bird’s breeding and the aquatic life off the river Ranganadi.
The dirtying of the wetland violated the 24(1) Clause of Water Pollution Act of 1974 and also violated the Garbage Disposal Order of 25th September, 2000 of Union Ministry of Environment and Forest.
The death of octogenarian Baliram Gogoi on August 8 last year also impacted negatively on Satajan wetland. Gogoi was the lone ranger of guarding the wetland from every threat from human encroachment to pollution and poaching activities.
Known as the Bird Man of Lakhimpur, Gogoi’s death has been a worry for the status of Satajan wetland which is yet to get any official status from the concerned departments. All these have led the wetland very vulnerable in recent times with reduced presence of migratory and residential birds.
The disturbances caused by the fishermen, are gradually destroying the natural habitat of many bird species. If urgent steps are not taken by authorities concerned to protect and conserve the wetland the area will soon become degraded and in the process a great diversity of fauna will be lost.