Are we going to lose the Rann of Kutch? | Pakistan Today

Are we going to lose the Rann of Kutch?

While nature conservationists and environmentalists of India and Pakistan as well as international organisations such as the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) are struggling for the unique Rann of Kutch to be declared protected under the Ramsar convention, the Pakistani government has issued leases to extract salt from the Pakistani portion of this already-declared protected game sanctuary.
The Sindh Mines and Minerals Department has issued leases to two separate companies for extracting salt from this protected site with unique wetlands that could be potential Ramsar sites. These leases are issued to extract salts from the salt lake located in the Mokhai village of the Nagarparkar district.
After receiving the leases for 1,500 acres in the area, both the companies, namely Taqi Salt Mining Works and Sundar Salt, have started digging salt at a massive level. The fertile land spread over 15 kilometres up to the road near the Dano Dhandhal village on the main Mithi-Nagarparkar Road has been completely destroyed as these companies are transporting salts in open trucks.
Comprising vast saline plain, the Great Rann ok Kutch is stretched on the extreme south-eastern corner of Sindh with Indus delta in the west, the Arabian Sea in the south, the Indian border on the south-eastern side and the Thar Desert on the north-eastern side.
“Technically, provincial or federal governments cannot issue any lease to any mining company anywhere in the Rann of Kutch as it is a highly protected area,” said Association for Water, Applied Education and Renewable Energy Executive Director Ali Akbar Rahimoo. His organisation has recently initiated massive protests against these leases and demanded the government to immediately cancel them.
“The wonderful and unique salt desert wetlands of the past have dried up now due to climate changes, the changing weather pattern and reducing rainfall in the area, but extraction of salt from these areas will destroy the remaining wetlands on a massive scale,” said Rahimoo.
The biodiversity importance of this unique area could be gauged from the fact that the Rann of Kutch is the only place in Pakistan where flamingos come to breed. The Rann of Kutch is also a protected wildlife sanctuary under the Sindh Wildlife laws as there are several species of lark and it is also a hub of Indian Wild Ass, Nilgai, Indian Wolf, Desert Fox and many other mammals, reptiles, birds and other wildlife species.
WWF-Pakistan states that the Rann of Kutch is a resting site for migratory birds and there are around 200 species of birds, including the threatened and endangered Houbara Bustard. The Rann of Kutch is one of WWF’s global 200 ecoregions, a science-based global ranking of the world’s most biologically outstanding habitats and the regions on which the WWF concentrates its efforts.
At present, there are around 157 protected areas in Pakistan that are recognised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. These protected areas include 14 national parks, 72 wildlife sanctuaries, 66 game reserves, 19 protected Ramsar wetlands, 9 marine and littoral protected areas and one biosphere reserve. Some of the wetlands located in the Rann of Kutch are a few of these protected sites.
“The Rann of Kutch is unique because it is a salt desert with lots of wetlands of international importance and it has wetland habitats and desert habitats at the same time,” said Rahimoo. He said that there are coastal wetlands or estuaries, tidal mudflats, brackish lagoons and permanent saline marshes that provide a favourite habitat for large number of water birds, including egrets, plovers, herons, ducks, pelicans and sandpipers.
The official record reveals that the Great Rann of Kutch consisted of 700,000 hectares in India and 770,000 hectares in Pakistan, whereas the Little Rann comprises 495,300 hectares in India. Recently, the Rann of Kutch wetlands comprise 566,375 hectares in Pakistan, and it was pledged that it would be declared a Ramsar site. Similar efforts were made by the Indian government.
Rahimoo said that the two companies have illegally occupied the area reserved for water pond in the villages of the Thar Desert, and the improper transportation of salt from the site to the main road has destroyed several fertile lands in the area. “Since the villagers started protesting against these companies, the owners agreed to pay compensation, but it is not about money. It is a matter of survival of such a large area that has international importance,” Rahimoo added.
He demanded the government to cancel these leases immediately. “The issuance of leases to these companies is in violation of national laws and many international conventions on nature, wetlands and biodiversity. Therefore, the government must cancel these leases immediately,” he said.