Deepavali will be quiet in 10 villages

Villagers want to help birds in nesting

Deepavali will be quiet in 10 villages

For most people in the country, bursting of crackers during Deepavali is a must and the festival is incomplete without it. Any effort to impose restrictions is not welcomed. Even the Supreme Court’s efforts to reduce pollution levels in Delhi came in for sharp criticism and judges had to express their unhappiness over the reactions to restrict bursting of crackers in the national capital.

Even communal colour was given to the ruling, temporarily banning sale of crackers in already polluted Delhi. Taking a cue from the Supreme Court ruling, some courts and administration officials have imposed restrictions on bursting of crackers in different parts of the country. Though in most cities, authorities do impose restrictions on burning of crackers, they remain only on paper.

However, some villages in Erode district in Tamil Nadu are an exception. It is self-imposed restriction and not an enforced one by the authorities as
villagers care for environment.

At least 10 villages will be quiet during the festival of lights. The residents of these villages around Vellode bird sanctuary in the Erode district have not burst crackers for the last 20 years. About 800 families, who are living in these villages, decided not to light crackers for preserving the bird sanctuary, which was established in 1997.

Spread over 77 hectares, Vellode bird sanctuary attracts birds from across the country and from different parts of the globe. As the villagers near the sanctuary were concerned about the environment and the birds coming to the sanctuary, they have taken several steps in the last two decades with the help of the authorities to avoid disturbance to the winged visitors.

“We were worried that the cracker sound would scare away birds, which regularly arrive from September to December,” village panchayat leader K Govindaraj said.

According to him, the sanctuary is quite distinctive as the big lake has no forest cover around it. The lake is surrounded only by villages and paddy fields.

Officials from Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve, who were maintaining the sanctuary, said more than 100 rare species of birds such as teals, pintail ducks, pelicans, darters, white breasted kingfisher, night heron, sandpiper, cormorant, Indian roller, painted stork, common coot and common teal are spotted regularly.

The main vegetation of the sanctuary consists of Acacia Nilotica plantation. The other tree species in the sanctuary include eucalyptus trees, Azadirachta indica and Palmyra along the sanctuary area. The sanctuary is an ideal habitat for the birds because of the availability of abundant feed in the tank and neighbouring agricultural fields, and presence of plenty of trees for perching and nesting.

Many villagers, who stay nearby the sanctuary, ensure that they release water from their agricultural fields to the lake where the birds come for nesting and breeding.

The migratory birds start arriving in the sanctuary during the onset of the northeast monsoon, which is usually in the months of September-October. There are variety of fish and other aquatic life in the lake, which are also vital food for many local birds. Forest department officials said birds, mainly from Australia and New Zealand, arrive at the sanctuary during the season, build their nests, lay eggs and leave with chicks after two to three months.

“Most of the people, especially children living around the area, do not even burn sparklers,” 75-year-old Muthuswamy, a farmer, said. Before the establishment of the sanctuary, people were celebrating Deepavali like in the rest of the country by bursting crackers.

“It is not one man’s decision to stop using crackers. It is a collective decision and people from all age groups adhere to the decision,” he added.

According to him, even during local festivals, people do not use crackers. “Since my childhood I have never lighted crackers. I know it will affect the arrival of birds. We have several activities to enjoy and, therefore, I never felt that I miss bursting crackers,” high school student S Govindraj said.

However, Muthuswamy, who has three grandchildren, said on Deepavali day people wear new clothes, visit the sanctuary with their families and offer grain to the birds and fish. Villagers near the sanctuary also ensure that even visiting tourists do not disturb the birds.

The forest department has been involving locals, especially students, in the bird count using binoculars in a bid to create awareness about the environment.

In addition, government schools in the villages are also involved. “We send our students regularly to the sanctuary for cleaning work in and around the lake. Similarly, many schools are also involved in this work,” P Kalaivani, a government school teacher, said.

She said pamphlets are distributed to the visiting tourists, urging them to keep the place clean. “Sometimes, several NGOs too help us,” she said.

The sanctuary attracts more than 5,000 visitors in a month during the season. At present, availability of water is high and thanks to good rain during the southwest monsoon. The flow of water in the lower Bhavani canal passing closeby, will ensure the presence of a large number of birds this year.

Vellode Bird Sanctuary is much larger than the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary in Mandya district of Karnataka, which is spread over 40 acres.

Two more villages

Interestingly, Unathur near Thalaivasal and Agraharam Nattamangalam in the Salem district also do not burst crackers and they have been doing it for a very long time. Some of the elderly people in these villages even do not remember having lit crackers in their lifetime. They have been staying away from crackers with the intention of not disturbing bats and birds living in the villages.

According to a villager, there was a huge banyan tree in Unathur and thousands of bats nest there. They did not want to disturb them and hence they gave up burning of crackers. Many consider bats as guests. People do not trouble guests, the villager added.

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