A Case for Banning Punt Guns
My grandfather was an avid bird-watcher. During my childhood, he was particularly fond of taking me to the Hoker Sar bund where we would be preoccupied with this particular hobby. I loved looking up at the birds flying over our heads; I was enchanted by the mystery of their origin and species. As an inquisitive child, I would turn to my grandfather, eager to invoke his response. He was a patient man and spoke with a gentle tone, "they are migratory birds who have flown thousands of miles in search of food and shelter".
I am now a grownup, studying at Central University of Kashmir. I still remember the elation that filled me on the day of my admission to the institution. Reason for this elation was location of the campus in the vicinity of the same place where I used to accompany my grandfather for bird watching. I expected it to create an opportunity for me to relive my childhood memories. My feelings proved to be short lived. Far from being an area for bird watching I landed in a commercialized area. The area has been converted into a residential colony. It is now overwhelmed with the hustle and bustle of people who live and engage themselves in various business ventures. Commercialisation of the area however, was not enough for my passion for bird watching to falter. I would still leave the university a bit earlier; proceed to Hokersar Bund for few hours of bird watching. It did not take long for me to notice that the number of birds arriving in Kashmir has dwindled significantly. Have our guests abdicated us because of shrinking wetlands? Do we owe this phenomenon to poaching? I began to look for answers by sparking conversations about the issue with people from diverse fields.
I came to know that authorities have made efforts to protect these birds from poaching. Unfortunately, they have not been very successful thus far. I reckon they have approached the issue from the wrong direction. Recent news reports reveal that all gun holders of Sonawari have been asked to deposit their licensed firearms in their respective police stations. This is not the first time that such measures have been taken to curb the poaching of migratory birds. Earlier, in 2015, all licensed gun holders of the district were asked to surrender their weapons. Did this policy yield results towards securing our winged visitors? Bitter truth is that birds could not be secured. It is obvious that the failure was on account of certain flaws in the policy.There are so many unlicensed guns that continue to be used for poaching. The ban targets only 12 bore guns leaving other weapons aside. One of the examples of the weapons left aside is "punt guns" A punt gun is a large shotgun, often used for killing large numbers of waterfowls. Punt guns are capable of killing hundreds of birds in a single shot. The killing of migratory birds is a punishable offence but the authorities have not been able to nab the punt guns from residents of the areas in vicinity of our wetlands. It is not difficult for the authorities to get rid of these punt guns. They can use huge security apparatus in and around Wular lake and direct it to confiscate the guns from their owners. Additionally, the authorities could also monitor gun repair shops with hawk-eyed scrutiny for the presence of any of these punt guns that may be undergoing repair at the moment. It seems that refusal to issue license at the first place has remained beyond the imagination of authorities concerned. The orders to deposit guns remains merely an eye wash unless applicable to the unlicensed punt guns as well. The punt gun is banned in almost all of the developed countries due to its devastating impact upon the population of waterfowls. Punt gun holders usually work in groups of 8-10 boats. They line up together and coordinate the firing of single shots from their weapons harvesting entire flocks of birds in a single volley. one can see such collective hunting in the areas like Lankreshpura, Kanniyar and Zirmanz.
Although the 12 bore shotgun is incapable of killing hundreds of birds in a single blow, it can still be used for culling purpose. The use of 12 bore shotguns for hunting is not banned in most of the developed countries, although the perception about it is shared amongst the populations. Thus focus should be made on punt guns rather than 12 bore shotguns.
The second possible reason for the decreasing numbers of migratory birds could be that our wetlands have shrunk significantly. Until a few decades ago, HokerSar was known as the "Queen of Wet lands". The reason behind the shirking of our wetlands is partly natural but poor management of water resources by successive governments has played devastating role in speeding up the extinction of water bodies. Doodh Ganga river for instance, initially used to flow from Ram Bagh via Batmaloo to merge in to Jehlum at Chata Bal. Digging of flood channel led to change of its course and instead of direct merger with Jehlum it was designed to discharge its waters in to Hokersar. No consideration was given to the fact that along with waters Doodh Ganga brings a lot of slit with it which could devastate the lake. The authorities did not take into consideration the importance of Hokersar as a prized wetland and rear reservoir of biodiversity. Hokersar previously was spread over an area of 14 sq km now it has been squeezed to 5-6 sq.kms. It also suffered a substantial loss in terms of the depths of its waters as well. Over the years its depth reduced from 12-14 feet to a few inches. Apart from mismanagement of the water resources unlawful fishing in Hokersar too remains a hazard for migratory birds. Usually It takes place during day time. once vigil gets tightened people resort to night fishing. Finding their habitat in a disturbed condition due to fishing, the migratory birds can be seen moving towards Dal and other Marsh lands during night time. Within these alien wet bodies they remain vulnerable to get trapped for lack of any protection mechanism. The wildlife authorities do not have any jurisdiction or vigilance mechanism within these wet bodies. It is only social stigmatization of hunting within these areas that comes to rescue of wandering waterfowls.