Maharana Pratap Sagar in India, also known as Pong Reservoir or Pong Dam Lake was created in 1975, by building the highest earthfill dam in India on the Beas River in the wetland zone of the Siwalik Hills of the Kangra district of the state of Himachal Pradesh. Named in the honour of the patriot Maharana Pratap (1572-1597), the reservoir or the lake is a well-known wildlife sanctuary and one of the 25 international wetland sites declared in India by the Ramsar Convention.
The reservoir covers an area of 24,529 hectares (60,610 acres), and the wetlands portion is 15,662 hectares (38,700 acres). The Pong Reservoir and Gobindsagar Reservoir are the two most important fishing reservoirs in the Himalayan foothills of Himachal Pradesh. These reservoirs are the leading sources of fish within the Himalayan states.
The closest railway stations to the project are Mukerian, at 30 km (18.6 mt), and Pathankot, at 32 km (19.9 mt). Nagrota Surian and Jawali, located on the periphery of the reservoir, are connected by a narrow gauge railway line, on the Kangra railway line, which connects Pathankot to Jogindernagar. The reservoir is connected by a good network of roads to major cities in Himachal Pradesh and Punjab. Apart from the airports at Chandigrah and Amritsar which are far off, the closest airport to the reservoir is Pathankot and Gaggal.
Flora And Fauna:
Pong Dam Lake was declared a Ramsar Wetland site on account of its rich waterfowl diversity for conservation and sustainable use of the wetland. This recognition was based on a proposal formulated by the Himachal State Council for Science, Technology and Environment, Shimla submitted to the Ramsar Bureau, Switzerland through the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests of the Government of India. The large reservoir and its strategic location in the extreme north-west of the northern plains has attracted migratory birds from the plains of India and Central Asian countries and Siberia. More Than 220 bird species of 54 families have been recorded. The interception of the migratory birds on their trans-Himalayan fly path, during each migration season, has enriched the biodiversity values of the reservoir. The Pong reservoir and its catchment have the following rich flora and fauna.
The reservoir peripheral land area has mixed perennial and deciduous pine forests on hills. Eucalyptus trees have also been grown in the area. The forest growth provides enough sustenance to the migratory birds. The tree species of the forest area are Acacia, Jamun, Shisham, Mango, Mulberry, Ficus, Kachanar, Amla and Prunus. A variety of shrubs, grasses and climbers have also been reported. The reservoir seasonal water-level variation between the maximum water level and the minimum draw-down level does not permit growth of much emergent vegetation, but some amount of submerged vegetation has been noticed.
A wide variety of commercially viable fish, 27 species of 5 families, such as Mahseer, Catla, Mirror Carp, Singhara (native) and others are recorded in the Pong Dam reservoir and its tributaries. Before the reservoir was built, catfishes, mirror carps and a few coarse fish were the dominant fish fauna in the Beas River. With the emergence of the reservoir, commercial fishing was encouraged as an important programme not only to provide employment to about 1500 fishermen but also to promote the eco-tourism potential.
A planned operation of fish stocking was launched with first introduction of Common carp in 1974 and Indian major carps or Silver carp in 1976-77. This resulted in a shift in the catch structure of the reservoir, with carps accounting for 61.8% of the total landings in 1987-88. The present fish stocks in the reservoir, in the sequence of their abundance are; Rohu, Aorichthys seenghala, Labeo calbasu (native), Tor putitora (Himalayan Mahseer), Cirrhinus mrigala, Wallago attu, Cyprinus carpio, Labeo dero, Catla catla and Channa sp.
The reservoir was declared as a bird sanctuary in 1983. A 5-km (3.1 mt) belt from the periphery of the lake has been declared as buffer zone for the management of the bird sanctuary. The national, as well as international, significance of the sanctuary is enhanced because of its waterfowl diversity, which was evidenced by the increase of water fowl species from 39 prior to the reservoir to 54 species at post-reservoir stage. The number of birds reported, particularly during the winter period of November to March, has steadily increased over the years.
The main bird species reported are the barheaded geese (Goose), Anser indicus, northern lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), ruddy shelduck (Tadorna ferruginea), Northern pintail (Anas acuta), common teal (Anas crecca), Spot-billed Duck (Anas poecilorhyncha), Eurasian Coot Fulica atra, red-necked Grebe (Podiceps griseigena), Black-headed gulls, plovers, Black Stork, terns, water-fowl and egrets. Around five thousand tourists visit the bird sanctuary during the winter season, and most of them come to watch migratory birds for the first time. Efforts are being made to encourage eco-tourism to attract more tourists to the reservoir.
The periphery above the water surface area of the reservoir has recorded fauna species such as barking deer, sambar, wild boars, leopards and Oriental Small-clawed Otters.
A regional water-sports centre has been established in the Pong Dam Reservoir, which offers focused activities such as canoeing, rowing, sailing, and water skiing, apart from swimming. Training programmes are organized in water safety and rescue measures with three-tier water-sports courses: the basic course, intermediate course, and advanced course. Modern infrastructure facilities have been created with a 75-bed hostel and a 10-suite rest house. It is said to be the only centre of its type in the country.
The following protection measures have enabled preservation of the reservoir ecosystem.
- Declaring the entire reservoir as a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1986 by the Himachal Pradesh government has mostly eliminated poaching. Nearly 40 village forest development committees are functioning to prevent poaching of birds, in addition to nine checkposts. Two mobile checkposts monitor suspicious activities in the sanctuary areas, in coordination with the established check posts. This vigilance programme has established Nagrota Surian, Guglara, Tairess, Jambal Bassi, Nandpur Bhatoli and Dehra as dwelling places for the migratory birds.
- To check siltation of the reservoir and to provide bird nesting places, plantation of the peripheral area of the lake has been undertaken in a large way.
- The Protected Area Management Plan envisages boundary protection, habitat improvement, tourism and regulation, roads and staff quarters and so forth.
- One of the islands in the reservoir has been named Ramsar (after the Ramsar Convention) and developed for nature conservation education, complete with a rest house and boating facility.
- Organised reservoir fishing with full support of the Department of Fisheries has provided opportunities to reservoir Oustee (project affected people due to submergence) families to take up fishing as a profession. As per the last report, more than 1,789 fishermen are engaged in fishing activities which generates secondary benefits to more than 1,000 families. A large number of fishermen cooperative societies are functioning in the reservoir.