With wildlife experts warning of a threat to survival of Gangetic river dolphins due to a national waterway project, the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) has decided to conduct an impact study on the Bihar-Jharkhand Gangetic stretch.
The Union government is developing National Waterways (NW)-1 to link a 1,390-km stretch from Haldia in West Bengal to Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh via Bihar under the Jal Marg Vikas Project (JMVP), with technical and financial assistance from the World Bank.
The project is expected to enable commercial navigation of 1,500-2,000 tonne vessels on the Haldia to Varanasi stretch, which covers two significant aquatic wildlife sanctuaries—Kashi Turtle Sanctuary in Varanasi and Vikramshila Dolphin Sanctuary in Bhagalpur.
Though the IWAI has got permission from the UP wildlife board for ship navigation through the Kashi Turtle Sanctuary, the Bihar wildlife board is yet to allow the same through the Vikramshila Dolphin Sanctuary, IWAI officials said.
IWAI vice chairman Pravir Pandey said, “A consultant is being hired to carry out a study to ascertain the risk associated with navigation on aquatic biodiversity and Gangetic dolphins.”
Pandey said a report would be submitted to the Bihar government and then required permission for the project would be sought.
The IWAI has already discussed the impact on Gangetic dolphins with wildlife experts from Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.
Wildlife researchers have claimed that navigation of heavy ships on the Ganga would be a potential threat to the survival of dolphins in the sanctuary as well as on the entire Bihar and Jharkhand stretch.
RK Sinha, a dolphin expert in Patna said IWAI had sought his views in November last year on the possible impact on Gangetic dolphins due to the inland waterway project .
He said the Ganga is not just a river but abode of numerous aquatic animals. “The dolphin and many other aquatic animals will face life threat from the propellers of the ships,” said Sinha, who has been recently appointed as vice chancellor of Nalanda Open University, Patna.
He said noise pollution from the ship would create another bigger problem. “Since dolphins are blind, they use echolocation, which allows them to ‘see’ by interpreting the echoes of sound waves that bounce off objects near them in the water. Therefore, the noise could disturb dolphin habitats and breeding cycle,” he said.
“I have suggested the IWAI to install propeller guards in ships so that dolphins do not get hurt and also lower the noise of navigational activities to the optimum level,” he said.
Sinha said population of dolphins on Bihar-Jharkhand Ganga stretch would be more than 1,000 km. The stretch in Jharkhand has 50-60 dolphins.
MK Singh, conservator of Dumka, said, “The Ganga stretch in Sahibganj is also rich in terms of aquatic life. Besides dolphin, the stretch is also home to crocodiles. We hope aquatic life in Sahibganj will also be considered in the impact study on dolphin.”