Rasikbeel Wetland

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 Location Ecosystem Type   Conservation Type   Area(hectare) Legal status 
 Cooch Behar, West Bengal Wetland Ecosystem Conservation 100Reserved Forest

Case Study (2009)

Background

Rasikbeel is a wetland ecosystem in Cooch Behar district in northern Bengal. It is located around 34 km from the sub-divisional office at Alipurduar and around 37 km from the district headquarters at Cooch Behar.

The beel (waterbody) covers an area of 1 sq km. This wetland has been a breeding ground for diverse species of birds. The lake shelters around 40 species of migratory ducks such as mergansers that descend here during the winter season from late November till early March. The vegetation around the lake consists of a mosaic of crop fields, bamboo groves and degrading moist deciduous forest patches, along with a few plantations. The beel is a major attraction for bird watchers.

The government is also encouraging tourism here. The legal status of the wetland is reserved forest (RF) under the jurisdiction of the Forest Development Corporation (FDC).

According to the villagers, this area had severely degraded prior to 1991. Indiscriminate hunting of birds had led to a sharp fall in the bird population. Even the birds which came to breed here were facing serious problems because of the lake being nearly choked by the water hyacinth. This situation led to the forest department initiating a wetland restoration programme in the area. As a result, a forest protection committee (FPC) was formed in 1991. The overall management of the beels now rests with the FPC, which consists of 432 members from the three hamlets of Octamochor, Chengtimari and Rasikbeel. These three villages are forest villages, as they were part of the taungya system1 since the 1960s. These villagers are inhabited by a diversity of communities such as the Santhals, Rabhas, Kochs, Bengalis and Kharias. After the forestry operations have nearly stopped in the area, the main occupation of the villagers is rainfed agriculture and collection of forest produce. Fishing is also carried out in the lake as a supplement to the income.

The protection efforts were further strengthened in 1995 when the FDC stepped in to build a tourist complex in the area. The FDC introduced eco-tourism, with the central objective of sustaining the natural habitat of the birds while promoting tourism. Tourism would also help the local livelihoods, increasing participation of local communities in bird protection.

Involvement of the FPC in the protection of the birds is believed to have considerably reduced the extent of hunting in the area. Additionally, the forests in the vicinity have also regenerated.

Under an informal arrangement with the FDC, the FPC is entitled to 25 per cent of the total revenue generated through tourism. The FPC also earns from the sale of firewood and bamboo. This fund is used for common village development activities. Encouragement of tourism in the area has led to economic uplift of the villagers.

Although the FDC calls their effort an eco-tourism effort, the scheme is geared towards converting this place into a conventional picnic spot. There are few efforts if any to facilitate tourism that is sensitive to local needs, including the needs of the birds and people. Tourism, particularly between the months of December and early February and especially on weekends, has increased manyfold. The overnight tourists are usually the ones interested in birds, but the day tourists come primarily for picnics. There are approximately 250-300 cars that visit the area on weekends. Noise pollution generated by this influx causes serious disturbance to the nesting birds.

Although the FPC has managed to ban loudspeakers in the area, they have not yet managed to deal with enormous amount of waste generated by the picnickers. The rapid spread of hyacinth and the consequent choking of the native plants in the lake is another emerging problem that needs to be urgently tackled.

Despite all efforts the regular census since 2000 has shown a decline in the number of birds. The reasons for this could be a combination of the above-mentioned reasons and some others. However, currently there are proposals to declare this wetland as a legally Protected Area (PA). Once declared a PA, utilization of the lake for any purposes by the local people will be affected. This is likely to strain the relationship between the people and the FD. Whether the area needs any legal protection, and, if yes, what, is an issue that needs to be carefully assessed.

This case study reflects a fairly progressive effort towards conservation. The FPC has played a crucial role in implementing economic incentives for the villagers. However in doing so it has to maintain a balance between commercialisation and resource sustenance. Hence the FPC’s objectives have to be focused on the people’s benefit along with conservation.

  This case study has been compiled Joy Dasgupta for this Directory in 2001. He is currently at ICIMOD, Kathmandu. 

Joy Dasgupta
Assistant Coordinator, Strengthening ABSBIO-EH
(Access and Benefit-sharing of Biological Resources in the Eastern Himalayas)
Culture, Equity, Gender and Governance (CEGG) Programme
International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD)
P.O. Box 3226
Kathmandu, Nepal
Tel: 00977-1-2210319 (R) 977-1-5525313 (O)
Email: [email protected]

1 A system under which people were settled on government forest lands in order to carry out forestry operations for the FD. As an incentive the villagers were given some land to live on and cultivate for personal use. These villages did not have any rights over the forests or its produce.

This case study was part of the Directory on Community Conserved Areas (2009), published by Kalpavriksh. The directory can be downloaded here.

Related Information

Scenario of Rasikbill Wetland, Cooch Behar District: A Geographical Perspective

A study of the Rasik Bill wetlands from a geographical perspective.

An Observation Of Different Physico-chemical Parameter Of Water And Some Avifauna At Rasik Bill, Cooch Behar

A study of the physico-chemical parameters of water of Rasik bill as a study of the freshwater ecosystem at Cooch Behar.

The gharial which lost its freedom after traveling 1000 km

An article in The Hindu about a gharial which was kept at Rasikbeel after travelling 1000 km and can't be released back into the wild due to a trans-state issue.

Major Fauna of Rasik Beel (West Bengal)

Records of the Zoological Survey of India of the different flora and fauna in the Rasikbeel region in 2013 with detailed descriptions.

Community boost to save-bird project

An article on bird conservation in Rasikbeel Pakhiralaya which has been declared a community reserve.

Photo Gallery

If you wish to send us any pictures,  please email it to [email protected] and [email protected]

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