Nandini Wildlife Sanctuary: Possible resurrection Monitor News Bureau || LIVE IMAGE

Modern developmental activities have rarely benefitted the vast natural environment in our state, due to lack of awareness & the requisite capabilities among our planners & administrators. However, for a change one such recent development had unintended positive fallout, as observed by the environment protectionists in the state. The word Nandini evokes nostalgia among the commuters travelling on the Jammu-Srinagar national highway, as with the commissioning of a new four lane highway, this place is now totally bypassed due to the boring of several tunnels through the Nandini hills. The National Highway Authority of India provided a great relief to the commuters on this highway by totally eliminating the numerous sharp curves on the old highway, thus facilitating a smooth hassle-free drive, resulting in saving of time & precious fuel for all types of vehicles. Earlier contoured sharp bends on this track had to be negotiated at great risk, a daunting task indeed, while ascending or descending these hills, before several short & long tubes were bored. This venture in the interest of the commuters & for a fast communication has proved a great relief and at the same time a blessing in disguise for the resurrection of the Nandini Wildlife Sanctuary, through which the old highway passed, with thousands of smoke spewing commercial vehicles plying daily round the year.

Nandni sanctuary, earlier known as Nandini Sikar Gaah, was in need of a respite from noise, pollution & human intrusion for a long time now. It was a place to hunt for the Royals and hunting in those days was carried on ethics, avoiding the royal pastime during mating season as well as never killing the female species. This area was host to a large variety of flora & fauna but presents a poor scenario at present and it is a formidable challenge to revive the Sanctuary which is overdue since decades. Otherwise it is on the edge and heading towards in finding a place in list of Gone with the Wind. Within the vicinity of this sanctuary fall not one but two most famous wildlife sanctuaries, the first being Bahu Rakh and the other being Ramnagar wildlife Sanctuary within the Jammu city, which were nurtured with love & care, till a few decades back. Bahu Rakh as per records covered an area of about 50 Sq kms, a thick rich forest full of wildlife, has vanished under illegal concrete Jungles and same way Ramnagar wildlife Sanctuary has shrunk to a small patch of about 11 sq kms from erstwhile record of about 30 Sq km.

Nandini Wildlife Sanctuary owes its name from a lone village inside the Wildlife Sanctuary called Nandini. On the fringes of this Wildlife Sanctuary are five villages, namely Koopargarh, Kheteria, Janakha, Tada and Doha. This sanctuary is nestled in upper Shivaliks & covers an area of about 32.24 Sq kms. Ideally situated, it presented one of the calmest & serene environs. Once upon a time, just a few decades back, it has seen thickly forest related vegetative cover, ideally suited to the wildlife, such as broad leaved species like Acacia modesta, Acacia catechu, Dalbergia sissoo, Bombex ceiba, Aegle mermelos, Zizyphus jugba, that constitutes the middle forest canopy. The lower levels comprise of Cassia fistula, Bauhenia species etc with various grasses and herbs.

It once boasted of huge population of pheasants besides Leopard, wild bear,grey langur, Goral, Barking deer, jackal, monkeys, Indian fox, Porcupine, Hare etc. The wildlife in plenty once immortalised Nandini village. A natural blend of perfect scenarios where every living being lived in perfect harmony, rarely heard of poaching or animal human conflict. This sanctuary is within a stone’s throw from the winter capital Jammu and around 20 kms from the main Bus Standing a couple of kms away from the Ramnagar Wildlife Sanctuary, Jammu,.Nandini wildlife sanctuary starts from Katal Batal Nagrota, on  right  side of the river Tawi, up to Siketar near Domel, on the National Highway. Sanctuary is tentatively girdled from North eastern side by Jindrah Ridge makes its boundary wherein falls Nandini village and the Highway, North East goes deep up to Nomai, Katra, a section touches on one side Billeni nallah and on the other side Surinsar mansar wildlife Santury. It is only when one travels the Sanctuary from one side to the other one realises its vastness, rich in flora and fauna and the solitude it presents that goes beyond words.

Nandini is known for number of reasons: Nandini Tunnel- first bored on Banihal Cart road a century back; from Jammu side for a bowli with sweet & cold water, providing without fail even in hot summers or dry season the nectar to quenching the thirst of the million travellers; for its delicious Cheese & Cheese Pakoras; a memorial in the name of late Brigadier Attama Singh who died in an accident at this place. Apart from these, this place generated employment during winter period to the inhabitants of hilly areas in particular to Gulabgarh who used to be employed by Army Corp for harvesting abundance of natural grass, engaging hundreds of labours for months in winter. The army used to make bales out of this grass, with Burma Press stationed at Ban Talab which was then transported to various army units for their animal transport. It does not require much labour to imagine abundance of grasses the Sanctuary had and now not a blade of grass grows. This writer is fortunate enough to enjoy all the opportunities it had since teen days, watching the Wildlife from very close proximity and getting thrilled when my father supervised the construction of road from Domel to Jindrah, in 1950. Needless to add Banihal cart road even when it was upgraded from time to time, every care used to be applied to cause minimum disturbance to the ecology of the area and vehicular traffic at that time did not cause any pronounced detrimental effect on the flora and fauna. 

This writer has been a regular visitor over the decades and as such has seen the tale of its downfall from zenith which unfortunately only a naturalist laments. I am reminded of a meeting, on these tours, with Mr A.R.Khalid who it appears must have given most of his service in the sanctuary,retiring as a Forester. His approach with his simplicity and politeness, tacit dealing even with complicated matters, in particular of the nomads, which at times appears hard nut to crack, solved amicably. In absence of demarcation of this sanctuary and ingress of habitation on all sides for various reasons like political lack of will, has eaten most of the sanctuary. State Govt. departments are in a habit of tossing away the Jammu & Kashmir Wildlife protection act and orders of Hon’ble High Courts. Even Hon’ble Supreme Court of India could not make any pronounced impact to bring on rails the deliverance system as per the relevant Act. Once upon a time a few decades back the State had been fortunate enough to have Wildlife area, second only to Gujarat in the whole of the country. At the same time Gujarat has just vast geographical area but poorest ecologically with just a couple of species to make mention off, while as on the other hand Jammu and Kashmir wildlife diversity is unmatched, being in plenty and known world over for rare & rich scenario of biodiversity.

It deserves mention here that it was clearly specified the number of National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuaries, Conservation Reserves and Wetlands, with the area under each. Needless to add, the Wildlife species each one of these Wildlife protected areas had, were well demarcated, recorded and enumerated. With the changing of Guard from Forest Department to Wildlife Protection and preservation Department in compliance to the Government order, It took the Department of Wildlife about 10 full years to carry necessary exercise to draw an action plan how to manage on the scientific lines. This is evident from SRO 137 Dated 10-04-1990 and since it was a half-hearted action plan with casual approach, it did not mature. Not a single National Park, Wildlife Sanctuary, Conservation Reserve or Wetland is demarcated and data about these is more as a speculation than ground reality. Even the amount received as compensation from the National Highway Authority in lieu of widening of the road and construction of tunnels through the Wildlife area, has not been poured in for its development. With the ushering in, without malice against any one, the Man in Crisis presently detailed as Chief  Wildlife Warden in mid-January, to take the department out of morasses of inaction, has once again rekindled the hope against hope. The writer has learnt that an action plan has been drawn and is under intense scrutiny at present, avoiding earlier pit falls encountered elsewhere in the Department. There is no reason to doubt, at the same time fingers have to be crossed till it starts emerging on the ground.

 Nandini Sanctuary is in dire need of preservation and at the same time encouraging eco-friendly trekkers as part of adventure tourism, developing Camp sites with all the necessary amenities without destroying ecology and other conservation measures. We need to encourage regular Bird watching in the area to inculcate a love for natural things. It would be a life time experience to see other wild animals on the prowl in the natural reserve.

 By- Bushan Parimoo
(The writer is a Jammu based environmentalist and a regular contributor to this Website .)

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