The state of Uttarakhand has got its first Ramsar Site—a wetland of international importance. The Asan Conservation Reserve, located on the banks of River Yamuna in Garhwal region in Dehradun district, was designated as the Ramsar Site on July 21, 2020. The nearest town or population centre of this Conservation Reserve about 8 kms away, at Herbertpur. It falls under the Indo-Gangetic monsoon forest (4.8.4) wetlands category, based on the categorisation by Hussain and Dey Roy (ZSI 2003).
Asan Conservation Reserve—a human-made wetland cleared five out of the nine criteria needed to be declared a Ramsar Site and get identified as a Wetland of International Importance (Roy 2020). The criteria cleared are rare species and threatened ecological communities, biological diversity, support during critical life cycle stage or in adverse conditions, more than one per cent waterbird population and fish spawning grounds. This wetland, primarily a freshwater system, has been created by the Asan reservoir. It is a perennial habitat and is fed by the river Asan and smaller discharge channels of river Yamuna.
A notified Conservation Reserve
Asan wetland is a 444 ha portion running along the Asan River, stretching to the confluence with the Yamuna River. It is also a conservation reserve, a protected area that typically acts as a buffer or a connector. Asan, therefore, serves as a migration corridor between established national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and reserved and protected forests in the region. The Uttarakhand Government on August 5, 2005, had notified Asan as a conservation reserve under Section 36A of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The Asan River, originating at Chandrabani in the foothills of the Shivalik hills, flows for about 40 kms before merging with the Yamuna at Dhalipur. The unique feature of this river is that unlike other rivers which flow north to south, it flows in a west to east direction. The reservoir remains filled throughout the year, fed by the Asan river and several other minor channels in a perennial manner.
The damming of the river and consequent siltation above the dam wall has created favourable habitat for avian species. It supports 330 species of birds that include even endangered vulture species such as red-headed vulture and white-rumped vulture. Some of the other bird species that can be sited in this wetlands are Ruddy shelduck, Indian Spot-billed Duck, Painted Stork and Bar-headed Goose. The ecosystem, which includes grasses and trees, supports many wintering birds, particularly waterbirds. It is therefore aptly described as the ‘paradise of wintering birds.’
Besides birds, the Asan reserve also supports 49 fish species, which includes the endangered Putitor mahseer.
What are Ramsar Sites?
Ramsar Sites are a list of wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands adopted on February 2, 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar. The Convention on Wetlands came into force for India on February 1, 1982. There are over 2,000 “Ramsar Sites” on the territories of over 160 Contracting Parties across the world. As of October 2020, India has 39 Ramsar sites—third highest in Asia and the highest in South Asia (RSIS 2020).
In general, wetlands provide many ecological services, including clean water, flood abatement, wildlife habitat, recreation, tourism, fishing and groundwater recharge. Countries where wetlands are designated as the Ramsar Sites, agree to establish and oversee a management framework aimed at conserving the wetland and ensuring its wise use. Ramsar Convention defines the ‘wise use’ of wetlands as ‘the maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development’. The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has also notified the new Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules 2017. This is also known as the Wetlands rules in which ‘wise use’ has been appropriately defined. The Rule has outlined permitted and not-permitted activities in the notified wetlands, including the Ramsar Sites. Wise use allows local people to practise sustainable agriculture, fishing, forestry and tourism using the available renewable resources. In a nutshell, wise use emphasises the sustainable management of these ecosystems by humans which is compatible with conservation. Besides, the Ramsar tag gives international importance to a wetland, which increases its publicity and brings prestige and prominence. In this way, it encourages sustainable tourism and uplifts the life of the local community.
RSIS. 2020. Available at, https://rsis.ramsar.org/RISapp/files/RISrep/IN2437RIS_2010_en.pdf
ZSI. 2003. Fauna of Asan Wetland, available at, http://faunaofindia.nic.in/PDFVolumes/ess/011/index.pdf