Sambhar: A Lake No More


SAMBHAR: Far from being a wetland, Sambhar in Rajasthan is no more a lake. Anthropogenic pressures have killed a wetland of international importance in the state. Ramsar site number 464 under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the Sambhar Salt Lake, once a large saline lake fed by four rivers set in a shallow wetland, is dangerously close to extinction. The lake has dried up and the flamingoes that used to visit the lake in thousands have reduced to just a few. Salt extraction, earlier done by surface brine, is now done by 1,544 borewells dug all over the lake. Ironically, after being designated as a Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance, on March 23, 1990 Sambhar has not been anybody's baby. "Until now, the GoI has not provided a map showing the boundary of the Sambhar Lake Ramsar Site and this is indicated in the paper update on the status of sites on the list of wetlands of international importance" which was presented at the 53rd meeting of the Standing Committee of the Ramsar Convention in May 2017. The only thing that the Indian government sent was Ramsar Information Sheet that led to the site being designated as a Ramsar site. But the Ramsar Secretariat is still awaiting further information from the Indian administrative authority on the cases of unauthorized salt extraction and excess pumping of groundwater for salt manufacture. Progressive degradation of the water fowl habitat has happened over past few decades despite financial assistance received by the Rajasthan government for conservation of the lake. But all that the government did was prepare reports and sit on it. Despite being a Ramsar site, Sambhar has not been declared a wetland under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1978 and, till today, there is no single authority responsible for the Ramsar wetland.