As the early morning rays of the winter sun descend on his riverside village in Narora, that lies in the Bulandshahar district of Uttar Pradesh, Radheyshyam sets out for his day’s work scouring the placid Ganges for river dolphins.
“They are like my children. I cannot think of a life without them now,” says the 32-year-old who uses just one name, endearingly referring to the playful mammal as ‘Dullu mausi’ (Aunt Dullu).
But a few years back, Radheyshyam, like other villagers, hunted them for their oil that is believed to have pain-relieving qualities and is also used as a bait in fishing.
Part of a conservation plan to protect the friendly river dolphin, this young man’s effort finds reflection in the changing lifestyle of an entire community inhabiting a lengthy swathe of along the banks of the Ganges.
The largely agrarian folk here have switched to organic manure. Largescale pesticide and chemical fertiliser use had polluted the river waters which in turn wrought havoc for the dolphins.
Radheyshyam attributes his turn-around to research scholar Sandeep Behra who came here to study dolphins in 1992. “Initially I was very apprehensive. I treated him as a foe who sought to deprive us of our traditional profession.”
Radheyshyam’s unique bonding with river dolphins is the stuff children would like to read in their storybooks. In a
86 km stretch of the Ganges river between Narora and Brijghat, east of Delhi, he claims to recognise all the dolphins and their calves. The young man also recounts how he had watched as fisherfolk sliced dolphins into pieces before boiling them to extract oil from their blubber. These ill-fated dolphins would get entangled in their nets.
Now, he assists Behra, who, after completing his research is the senior coordinator of fresh water species and wetland programmes in WWF - India. “He is an asset for me,” says Behra.
In his changed role, Radheyshyam has already rescued many dolphins and relocated them in safer waters. He now goads his fellow fisherfolk to protect dolphins as they are good for rivers. “No one kills dolphins in my area now,” he says demanding a complete ban on ‘contract fishing’ in the Ganges.
Indeed, the awareness is growing. “Jaivik Lagao, Ganges aur Dolphin Bachao” (Use organic fertilisers to save the Ganges and the dolphins) is the latest buzz among people of Karnwas, a small and historic village on the bank of the Ganges.
Villagers’ growing interest in organic farming has kindled hope for effective community partnerships required to save both dolphins and Ganges even though persuading farmers was an uphill task for WWF activists and local agriculture officials.
“The Karnwas stretch of the Ganges is a favourite habitat of dolphins. The use of organic fertilisers in the farming lands around the river would definitely have a positive effect in cutting chemical discharge into the Ganges and in saving dolphins,” says A K Sharma, deputy director, agriculture department, also a keen promoter of organic farming in the district.
After acquiring technical knowledge, enthusiastic villagers dump dung and other degradable materials into specially designed rectangular pits to decay. “It is converted into organic fertiliser after 40 days. Each pit yields 350 to 400 kg of fertiliser,” said Shyam Mohan, project officer, WWF - India.
Now these pits are commonplace in the village. “Agriculture pollution in the Ganges in and around Karnwas has gone down by 30 per cent in the last eight years,” says Behra. However, other modes of pollution have grown, he admits.
Farmers Munendra Singh Nag and his elder sibling have dug two pits for their 100 bighas (less than a acre) of land. “We will add two more pits this year,” said Raghvendra who has cut back on chemical fertiliser use in his fields from an average of around 12 kg urea and 5 kg DAP in every bigha.
Their neighbour Radheyshyam, a marginal farmer grows watermelon, cucumber and other vegetables using organic fertiliser. “It is less expensive and enhances yield,” he says.
And things are getting better. Now, a newly-formed ‘Paryawaran Sanrakshan Samiti’ (Environment Conservation Group) — headed by the village headman — is also promoting organic farming for the Ganges and its dolphins in Karnwas.