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Monday, August 10, 2015

Harvesting of water

The importance of water for life and environment is being felt since the man appeared on this planet. Hence, water is being harvested in India since the ancient period. The need of conservation and management of water was felt even by the people of the Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro, about 5000 years ago. Here is a historical account of the practice of water conservation in India, after which I will talk about various water harvesting practices and structures that have been traditionally popular in the different parts of this country.

The Archaeological Studies show that India’s Great Rann of Kutch had several reservoirs to collect rain water runoff in the extremely dry region of Dholavira, dating back to the 3rd millennium before the Christ. Kautilya”s Arthashashtra that was written in the 3rd century B.C. has a mention of irrigation by rain- harvested water through community participation. The Junagarh Inscriptions dating back to 2nd century A.D. inform us about the restoration of Sudarsana Lake, which is not seen now since 9th century A.D.

The Vijainagar Tradition of Vijainagar Kingdom (1336-1564 A. D.) laid much emphasis on the development of irrigation and water harvesting for the improvement of agriculture. The kings of olden days like Krishnadeo Rai (1509- 1530) etc. emphasized that prosperity of the empire depended on the construction of irrigation channels and water tanks. The Gond Tradition emphasized on the repairs of channels, embankments, distributaries, tanks or Talabs etc. The Rani Talab of Jabal Pur is a glaring example of water harvesting tradition of Gond Tribes. The Bengal Tradition laid emphasis on irrigation with the water collected through rain water harvesting. The Karikala Chola of 2nd century A.D. built a Grand Anicut across the river Cauvery to divert water for irrigation. Raja Bhoj of Bhopal built the largest artificial lake (65,000 acres) in India. That lake was fed by streams and springs. Kalhan in his Raj Tarangini (12 century A.D.) has described a well maintained irrigation system in Kashmir.

In respect of availability and non- availability of water, India can be divided into 15 Ecological regions, ranging from dry, cold desert of Ladakh to the dry hot desert of Rajasthan, from the sub- temperate mountain of the Himalayas to the tropical high mountain of Nilgiri. Melting glaciers and snows are the only sources of water for the people residing in Ladakh region. The people of this region make intelligent use of their limited resources and make agriculture possible in this dry and barren land. The snow and ice melt slowly through the day and water is available in the streams only in the evening, when it is too late for irrigation. The water in the streams is hence led by channels to storage tanks and used the next day. These storage tanks are called as ZING.

The aptani tribes of Arunachal Pradesh practice another system of water conservation. Under this system the stream water is blocked by constructing a wall 2 to 4 m high and 1 m thick near forested hill slopes. This water is taken to the agricultural fields through channels. The valleys are terraced into plots separated by 0.6 m high earthen dams with inlet and outlet channels (to the next plot) that help to flood or drain the plots as and when required. This traditional system is practiced in Nagaland and is traditionally called as Aptani System of water conservation.
Another tradition of water conservation is Zabo.The term Zabo means ‘impounding run-off’. Zabo tradition is practiced in Nagaland. When rain falls on terraced hill slopes, the runoff collects in ponds in the middle terrace. The runoff then passes through slopes where there are cattle yards, and finally reaches the paddy fields at the foot of the hills. Thus it is through this system that not only the irrigation of paddy fields is brought about, but the fertility of the crop- field is also improved.

A very popular tradition of water harvesting in the north-eastern India is the Bamboo drip irrigation. Under this system the rapidly flowing water from streams and springs is captured by bamboo pipes and transported over hundreds of meters to drip irrigate black pepper cultivation in Meghalaya. Many bamboo pipes of varying diameters and lengths are laid to manipulate and control the flow of water through this system of water conservation.
Ahar-pyne is a traditional floodwater harvesting system indigenous to South Bihar, and in Palamau of Jharkhand. Here the terrain has a marked slope, the soil is sandy, groundwater levels are low and rivers flood their banks only during the monsoon. The ahar is the catchment basin embanked on three sides, while the fourth side is the natural slope. Pynes or artificial channels start out from the river, and meander through fields to end up in an ahar.

Tankas are traditional water storage structures that are round or rectangular in design and are usually constructed to store water in Bikaner of India. Rainwater from the roof or terrace is directed towards an opening in the floor which leads to the tanka. The rain water thus stored in tankas is used for various purposes. Another popular tradition of water harvesting is the constructions of Johads. These are small earthen check dams that capture and conserve rainwater, improving percolation and groundwater recharge. This practice was started in 1984 in Rajasthan. So far some 3000 Johads have been constructed across more than 650 villages in Alwar district of the state. What about other districts? Well other districts are also moving along the same path. This has resulted in a general rise of the groundwater level by almost 6 meters and a 33 percent increase in the forest cover in the area. Five rivers that used to go dry immediately following the monsoon have now become perennial. Such is the River Arvari that has come alive.

Another popular tradition of water harvesting is the construction of Khadins. A khadin- also called a dhora is an ingenious construction designed to harvest surface runoff water for agriculture. Its main feature is a very long (100-300 m) earthen embankment built across the lower hill slopes lying below uplands. Sluices and spillways in the area allow excess water to drain off to the catchment. The Khadin system is based on the principle of harvesting rainwater on farmland and subsequent use of this water-saturated land for crop production. First designed by the Paliwal Brahmins of Jaisalmer, Western Rajasthan in the 15th century, this system has great similarity with the irrigation methods of the people of Ur (present Iraq) around 4500 BC and later of the Nabateans in the Middle East. A similar system is also reported to have been practiced 4,000 years ago in the Negev desert, and in southwestern Colorado 500 years ago.
As in many parts of the country, the people of Rajasthan have learnt to live with scarcity of water. In Churu, Bikaner, and Sikar of the state people have learnt to harvest rain water in Kunds or Kundis. What are Kunds or Kundis? Dome shaped structures over an underground tank surrounded with an artificially paved catchment sloping towards the centre is called as Kund or Kundis. Traditionally, these tanks were made up of lime, which acted as disinfectant but currently scarcity and demand hassled people to construct Kunds of cement.

A very popular tradition of judicious utilization of water or water conservation is Pani-kheti.In other words, the system of rice cultivation on terraces developed by the Angami and Chakesangs tribes of Nagaland state of the North- eastern India is called a Panikheti. Rather, Panikheti is the term applied to the beautiful rice terraces in the North-eastern Hill Region of India. In this system of farming on terraces, water is supplied to plants by channels that carry water from streams. About 10 to 15 cm of water level is maintained in the fields and rest of the water is allowed to flow down to the lower terraces. This traditional practice ensures that there is no wastage of water while protecting the rights of farmers over its judicious utilization.
Key Words: harvesting, Pani - kheti,Angami, Kumds

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Birds and Bird Trade

Some reports regarding increasing bird trade in endangered species that were published recently in some news papers are matters of concern not alone for the lovers of environment and wildlife but for common public as well. The reports mentioned about trade in some endangered, rare or vulnerable species of birds such as Grey Headed Parakeet, Plum Headed Parakeet, Java sparrow, and Common Hill Myna etc.Those that live in and around Ranchi can frequently see a bird seller carrying cages of birds on his soldier, hanging down in front and back sides. The scene is very common in other cities of Jharkhand as well, and those who live in Lohardaga, Gumla, and Simdega and Jamshedpur areas can also see bird sellers moving through streets. I have seen bird sellers in some other states also like U.P., M.P., and Bihar.
Wildlife Protection Act
In India, trade of birds, wildlife and their body parts have been banned under the Wildlife Protection Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species restricts the trade of birds, a black market involving 300 of the country’s estimated 1,200 bird species runs openly in many places. Laws that are designed to protect India’s birds are well intentioned but rarely enforced.
Bird Markets
There are big bird markets in Mumbai, Kolkata, Lucknow and many other cities in India. One of the largest illegal trades in animals takes place at Mumbai’s Crawford Market. The Bombay High Court in 1997 had ordered a committee to conduct raids at the market. This was an effort of the court to curb illegal bird trade at least temporarily, but the committee was reported inactive. So the illegal activities of the animal dealers at the Crawford Market, as well as at other markets remained blooming. Who help Bird Traders?
Many villagers around the city of Kolkata earn money by trapping and selling birds Every Sunday at a market in Kolkata, these village trappers provide the local sellers with more than 6,000 birds. The next morning, the sellers offer the birds at other markets in and around Kolkata. Bird traders purchase these birds and send into other markets located either in the same state or the other. Poachers illegally transport thousands of birds who are captured from the bird-rich hills and forests of the northeast, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar – primarily around the Gangetic Plain and in the foothills of the Himalayas – or from southern states such as Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Deccan Plateau. These birds are Packed in small boxes and shipped on trains to different cities. According to an estimate by some bird lovers, about 60 per cent of these birds die in the transit as a result of broken wings and legs, thirst or just panic.Now, let me introduce some of these rare and endangered birds that are high on trade list. 
Grey-headed Parakeet
It is scientifically known as Psittacula finschii. It is closely related to the Slaty- headed Parakeet. These two together form a super species Psittacula finschii which is named after the German naturalist and explorer Otto Finsch. This bird is found in North-eastern India, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. This bird is recognised by its grey/ green face and dull green colour of its rest of the body, faint pale green band below cheeks and a short tail. The trade of this bird is in full swing in most of the bird markets in India.
Plum- headed Parakeet
It is taxonomically known as Psittacula cyanocephala. It is a green parrot usually up to 33 cm long and a 22cm long tail. Head of the male bird is red; and crown, nape and cheeks are purple blue. A narrow black neck collar and black chin stripe form principal features for identification of the bird. A red patch is found on the shoulders and rump and tail are bluish- green in colour. The tip of the tail is white. Mandibles are yellowish in colour. The head of the female bird is grey; its upper mandible is corn –yellow in colour. It lacks the black neck collar, chin stripe and red patch of shoulder. Heads of young birds are green in colour with yellowish mandibles.
This bird is endemic to Indian subcontinent. However, it is a resident breeder in Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and Bangla Desh. It is a gregarious and noisy species. It is reported that this bird can learn to mimic beeps and whistles though not a good talker. It nests in holes in tree trunks and lays 4 to 6 white coloured eggs.
This bird is usually found in forests and open woodlands. Its population is being reduced gradually due to trade in urban and heavily inhabited areas. Some countries have issued stamps depicting Plum- headed parakeets. These countries are Bhutan, Sierra Leone and Sri Lanka.
Java- sparrow
This bird   is a small passerine bird taxonomically known as Padda oryzivora. It is locally known as Java-finch, Java rice sparrow or Java rice bird. Though it is a resident of Java, Bali, Indonesia etc. it has been introduced in a large number of other countries too. The length of this bird is up to 17 cm. The under parts and breast of an adult bird is grey in colour. Its belly is pink, head is black, cheeks are white, eye ring is red, feet are pink, and bill is red and thick. The bill of this bird is black and bases are pink.
Song of this bird is rapid series of call notes chipchipchipchipchip …It builds nest in a tree or building and lays up to 8 eggs. It feeds on grains and other seeds. It can be frequently seen in open grassland and cultivation.
Habitat loss and large scale hunting are serious threats to this bird. It is this reason that Java sparrow has become uncommon in its native range. The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) - red list of threatened species has listed it as vulnerable. It has been placed in Appendix II of CITES. In India, it is found as introduced species but it is not a successful resident of Indian mainland. It has established a breeding population around Colombo, Sri Lanka, several of the Hawaiian Islands etc.
Common Hill Myna
This bird is a resident of Hill regions of South Asia, and Southeast Asia, Hill Myna is a member of Starling Family which is taxonomically known as Sturnidae. It is stocky-jet black bird. It has orange- yellow patches on naked skin and fleshy wattles on the side of its head and nape. Its length ranges from 20 to 29 cm. This bird is taxonomically known as Gracula religiosa. The plumage of this bird is black purple tinged on head and neck. Large white wing patches on wing are obvious in flight but covered when the bird is sitting. Bill and legs are bright yellow. Yellow wattles are found on the nape and under the eyes.

The Hill Myna is a resident breeder from Kumaun division in India, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, Arunachal Pradesh, the Lower Himalyas, Terrai and foothills up to 200m. It is reported extinct in Bangladesh due to habitat destruction and over exploitation for the pet trade.

Key Words
Endangered species, IUCN,trade, bird market

Thursday, December 25, 2014

National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries of India

A summary Table of some significant Wildlife Sanctuaries and National Parks is given below -


Bandhavgarh National Park
Bandhavgarh National Park is spread across the Vindhya hills of Madhya Pradesh, over a coverage area of approximately 437 sq km. The topography of the park is characterized by sharp ridges, surging forests and open meadows

Bandipur National Park
It is situated on the Mysore-Ooty Highway, at the confluence of Deccan Plateau and Western Ghat Mountains. The wildlife park falls under the Chamarajanagar district of the South-Indian state of Karnataka.

Jim Corbett National Park
It is situated in the foothills of the Himalayas and comes under the state of Uttaranchal. The park was established in the year 1936 and at that point of time, it was known as the Hailey National Park.

Dachigam National Park
It is situated in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, at a distance of approximately 22 km from the Srinagar district. It is spread over an area of 141 sq km and boasts of some of the most beautiful locales in the country.
Desert National Park
It is located in the Jaisalmer city of Rajasthan. Stretching in the Thar Desert, over an area of 3150 sq km, the park serves as the perfect example of its ecosystem.

Dudhwa National Park
It falls under the Lakhimpur-Kheri district of Uttar Pradesh. It is situated along the India-Nepal border, in the foothills of the Himalayas. Spread over an area of 490 sq km, the park stands bounded by Indo-Nepal border in north and by Suheli River in the south.

Gir National Park
It was established in the Junagarh district of Gujarat, is spread over an area of 1412 sq km. The park holds the distinction of being the only natural habitat of Asiatic Lions in the whole world. The park holds the distinction of being the only natural habitat of Asiatic Lions in the whole world.

Kanha National Park

This Park is one of the most famous habitats of the tiger in the whole world. The park is situated amongst the Banjar and Halon valleys of the state of Madhya Pradesh.

Keoladio Ghana National Park

It is situated in the Bharatpur city of Rajasthan, is one of the major attractions of India. There is an interesting story behind the establishment of this park.

Manas National Park
Manas National Park of India boasts of amazing wildlife as well as picturesque beauty. The park is situated in the Kamrup district of the northeastern state of Assam.
Nagarhole National Park
It is situated at a distance of approximately 96 km from the Mysore city of Karnataka. Sharing its boundary with Bandipur National Park, the park covers an area of approximately 643 km.

Nanda Devi National Park
It is situated in the Chamoli district of Uttaranchal. One of the most magnificent backwoods of the Himalayas, the park rises to an altitude of 2,400 to 6,817 m.

Periyar National Park

It lies nestled in the Western Ghats, falling in the Idukki district of Kerala. The lake that constitutes a major portion of the park came into existence after a dam was constructed on the Periyar River, in the year 1895.

Rajaji Natyional Park
It is situated in the state of Uttaranchal, now known as Uttarakhand. The picturesque beauty and rich biodiversity of the park serve as its major attractions for both nature lovers as well as wildlife enthusiasts.
Ranthambhore National Park
It forms a part of the Sawai Madhopur District of Rajasthan. The park is nestled on the intersection of the Aravalli hill range and the Vindhya hill range.

Sariska National Park
It lies nestled in the Aravali Hill ranges of Rajasthan. One of the most popular national parks of India, Sariska falls under the Alwar district. Once the hunting reserve of the royal family of Alwar, Sariska was declared as a wildlife sanctuary in the year 1958.

Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary
Sultanpur National Park and Bird Sanctuary falls under the Gurgaon district of Haryana. It is situated on the Gurgaon-Farukh Nagar Road, at a distance of approximately 50 km from Delhi and 15 km from Gurgaon.

Sundarbans National Park
Sundarbans National Park forms a part of the largest delta created by the Ganga and Brahmaputra Rivers. Its core area is made up of the largest mangrove forest in the world. 
Dalma Wildlife Sanctuary
It is located on Ranchi Jamshedpur road in Jharkhand.It principally houses elephants.
Valley of Flowers National Park
It is nestled in the Himalayan ranges of Uttaranchal. The park spreads over an area of 87.50 sq km and was declared as a national park in the year 1982. 
Little Rann of Kutch Wildlife Sanctuary
It is situated at a distance of approximately 93 km from the Ahmedabad city of Gujarat. Spread over an area of approximately 4950 sq km, the sanctuary counts amongst one of the largest wildlife sanctuaries in India. 
Mudumalai National Park
is situated in the state of Tamil Nadu, stretching over the forest belt between the Western Ghats and the Nilgiri Mountains. While crossing the highway connecting Mysore and Ooty, you will come across this picturesque park, which comes under the Nilgiri district of the state.

Mukurthi National Park
This National Park is situated in the Nilgiri district of Tamil Nadu, at a distance of approximately 27 km from Ooty. It lies on the southeastern corner of the elevated Nilgiri Plateau and is a part of the Nilgiri Biosphere.

Wayand Wildlife Sanctuary
This Wildlife Sanctuary is situated in the South-Indian state of Kerala. It is also known as the Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary and was set up in the year 1973. Later, the sanctuary was declared as a national park.
Palamau Tiger Reserve

The Palamau Tiger Reserve Jharkhand  is located in the Plamau area. It principally houses tiger and many other animals.
Rajgir Wildlife Sanctuary 
The Rajgir Wildlife Sanctuary  of Jharkhand covers a picturesque plot that extends across an area that measures approximately 34 square kilometers.
Hazaribagh National Park

 It is located in the low hilly terrain of Jharkhand and spread over 184 square kilometers in thick tropical forests and grass meadows.
SanjaiGandhi Javik Udyan
The Sanjai Gandhi Javik Udyan is located near Bailey Road, in Patna, Bihar. 

Key Words: National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries, wildlife

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Eucalyptus Tree


Eucalyptus is a tree native to Australia. It is well acclimatized in India. Once its roots meet soil, it goes on growing and growing. On 5th June 1991,  I planted a number to trees in a school campus. By chance, a plant of Eucalyptus came with the drooping Ashoka saplings. When the Drooping Ashokas were being planted, the Eucalyptus sapling stimulated my heart and without any planning I planted the same. Now Drooping Ashokas have attained fairly good heights but Eucalyptus has attained a height triple to them. It is so high that anyone can see its top from a distant place.

Eucalyptus is aromatic as it contains specific fragrant oil. This tree makes an attractive addition to a lawn or orchard. In Ranchi, there is a famous rather historical ground named as Morabadi ground. The local branch of CMPDI once planted trees of Eucalyptus in a large area in the breadth of this ground and trees have become gigantic by now few years back some bats inhabited the trees and their population rose very fast within a year or so. 

I used to go under these trees to watch the activities of those bats hanging from branches. In the previous election a leader became Chief Minister of the state and fireworks continued exploding the whole day producing lots of smoke and high pitched sound. Frightened from all this bats started flying away and the sky on the ground were clouded by their presence. Up to late in the night they kept on flying in terror and God knows where they settled. Anyway, the Eucalyptus trees have lost their friends now. Recently, I came to see that a number of trees have dried up and the whole area looks somewhat barren.

So, we were talking about Eucalyptus trees. It is a medicinal tree and extracts of leaves of this tree are added in cough syrups. Its oil has germicidal property. It purifies the surrounding air. Some persons are heard saying that this tree absorbs so much water that the ground may become like a desert. In my opinion it is incorrect. Eucalyptus tree has industrial values as well. Its pulp is used for making good quality paper. As a result we can see Eucalyptus plantation in different states of India.

Key Words: Eucalyptus, Drooping Ashoka,medicinal

Friday, December 12, 2014

Species and Population

We see different types of plants and animals around us. Some of these plants and animals are similar. Similar plants or animals form particular sets, and thus a number of sets of plants and animals are found in the nature. The individuals of one set of plants or animals remain similar with the individuals of the same set of organisms, while they remain different from the individuals of a different set.

A group of similar type of plants or animals  that can interbreed with one another in nature is called as species. There are numerous species of plants, animals and micro-organisms that exist in nature.

Individuals of one species tend to aggregate and live together occupying certain area at a given time. This aggregation of individuals of the same species often becomes permanent.This somewhat permanent aggregation of individuals of the same species that occupy a definite space at a given time is called as Population. Example: Flamingoes form a population in the figure below.

Key Words: Plants and Animals,species, population

Coral Reef and the Great Barrier Reef

Rock like spectacular structures in seas and oceans that are made of limestone, are called as coral reefs. The limestone inside the sea is secreted by millions of tiny animals called as coral polyps.

A Coral Polyp has a sac like soft body with a single opening which remains surrounded by tentacles. The lime stone secreted by a coral polyp accumulates to form high ridges called as reefs. 

In some areas of an ocean, these reefs grow high enough to take the shape of a barrier. Example of such an oceanic barrier which is visible even from the space is called as the Great Barrier Reef. 

The Great Barrier Reef stretches itself 1,200 miles off of the east of Queensland; Australia. This is the largest marine preserve in the world. It harbours about 500 species of beautifully coloured corals; 4000 kinds of shellfish, and 1,500 types of other fish species; besides vast varieties of algae and millions of varieties of consumers. As coral reefs are very rich in animal life, these are called as Rain Forests of the sea.

The Great Barrier Reef

A Coral Reef

Key Words:coral,coral polyp,Great Barrier Reef

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Annona squimosa- an important medicinal plant - I


Various types of natural remedies have been being made from different plants reported to contain medicinal properties. These natural remedies have been tested and found to be safe and effective. Many folkloric medicines have been prepared out of many plant species which are used for the treatment of different ailments. Compounds extracted out of plants continue to play major roles in Primary Healthcare as therapeutic remedies in many developing countries. Plants are rich sources of secondary metabolites with interesting biological activities.

Shareefa as it is known in Hindi language, Annona squimosa is one of the important medicinal plants known to Ayurveda and other traditional medical systems since time immemorial. It is profusely branched shrub or tree belonging to family Annonaceae. It bears tasty edible fruits called as Sugar Apple. It is semi-deciduous growing up to 3 metres to 8 metres in height. It is similar to soursop (A. muricata). It has a broad open crown and branches spreading irregularly.

Stem branches of Annona squimosa are with light brown bark and visible leaf scars. The inner bark is light yellow and slightly bitter in taste.

Leaves of the plant are thin, simple, alternate, occurring singly, 5 to 17 cm long and 2 to 6 cm broad, rounded at the base and pointed at the tips(oblong lanceolate), pale green on both surfaces, hairless with slight hair underside when young leaf stalks are 0.4 cm to 2.2 cm long and green.

Continued in the next post

Key Words: Annona squimosa, plant, medicinal