Sheikha Jheel is a lake situated 17 km from Aligarh (Uttar Pradesh) on Aligarh Jalali road near village Sheikha. It falls in the Koil tehsil of Aligarh district. The Upper Ganga canal flows adjacent to the lake. The lake and the village are less than a kilometer away from the Sheikha village busstop. The total area of the lake is 25 ha.
This Jheel came into existence after the formation of the Upper Ganga Canal in 1852. It is a fresh water perennial water body surrounded by agricultural fields on two sides. The Upper Ganga Canal divides the lake into two parts. The area receives moderate rainfall up to a maximum of 644 mm. The lake and its surrounding areas support a diversity of habitats, viz. wetland, grassland, forest etc. The wetland forms an ideal habitat for the waterfowl and other water birds especially during the winter months. Among the flora the dominant tree species that surround the lake are Terminalia arjuna and Syzigium cumunii. The other components of the vegetation include acacias, Dalbergia sissoo, neem, among others. The major weeds include Lantana camara, Sida, Parthenium hysterophorus and Cassia tora. The shrub species include Ipomea aquatica and, Muraya koenigi. Only a few mammalian species are found in the area like the blue bull, blackbuck, five stripped squirrel, Indian mongoose, black-napped hare, rhesus monkey and jackal. About 166 water bird species have been reported in and around Sheikha. Some of these include, the great crested grebe, painted stork, barheaded goose, purple heron, and so on.
Bhavavankhera and Sheikha are two villages that fall in the vicinity of the lake. The other villages are Edalpur, Changeri, Jalali, Gangary and Panaithi. The total population of Sheikha village is more than a 1000 comprising mainly of Rajputs and Jatavas. Agriculture is the sole source of income of the people with a mixed population of rich farmers who own tractors and other agricultural equipments and poorer peasants who either work in other people’s fields or own small pieces of land. The major crops grown in the vicinity of the lake are paddy and wheat. Some farmers also grow sugarcane, maize and mustard. The lake is used by the people for cultivation of water chestnut and small scale fishing. The area around the lake is also used for grazing of domestic cattle.
During summers, there is less water in the lake and some ground vegetation grows. The villagers graze their cattle continuously during this time so as to prevent it from turning into a terrestrial ecosystem. Till 1952, the villagers used to depend on the lake for agriculture. Since the construction of the Ganga Canal, their dependency on the lake has become negligible.
Impacts of past and current land uses:
1. De facto cultivation of water chestnut in one part of the lake covers most of the water surface. This has resulted in less surface area for the birds to forage. However all care has been taken to leave a considerable part of the wetland for use by wild waterfowl.
2. The FD planted some trees of Tamarix sp. and Prosopis sp. on the canal banks under various social forestry programs which produced a good forest. Later, when this land was distributed amongst the Scheduled caste and other backward classes (dispreviledged sections), under a government scheme, the gram samaj (village council) ordered the felling of these trees which led to the vanishing of the wildlife that had developed here. The conserving community holds a grudge against the government for this.
3. A tar road constructed along one side of the lake has rendered it an easy access for outside poachers.
4. In 1991, the District administration built mounds in the middle of the lake and a trail in the lake leading to the mound. This restricted the flow of water. Subsequently, these mounds and the mud road were left unattended, causing siltation and making the wetland shallower.
5. Water hyacinth grows here profusely causing eutrophication and hence fewer surfaces for the birds to use.
Legally, the jheel comes under the village common land and gram samaj has the ownership rights. The forest department’s social forestry wing had carried out some plantations on the canal banks about ten years ago. These plantations come under reserved forests of the region and have been closed for hunting under the Wild Life Protection Act (1972). Also, plantations were carried out on the area on Ganga canal banks by Ganga Canal Department. Presently this area is also cultivated under the social forestry program and comes under protected forests.