Project Dolphin steering panel member laments Bihar’s lost opportunity
Dolphin expert from Bihar, Dr RK Sinha, who was awarded Padma Shri in 2016 for extensive research on the mammal, was made a member of the Steering Committee for implementation of Project Dolphin, launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 15, 2020. The 15-member steering committee, to be headed by additional director general of forests (wild life) and director, wildlife preservation, government of India, will oversee the implementation of the Project and advise the government on strategies and modalities for its effective implementation.
Sinha is one of the only three members, included in the steering panel in their individual capacity in recognition of their research on Dolphins. Presently the vice chancellor of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University in Jammu & Kashmir, Sinha studied the mammal during his working days with Patna University.
“I am happy that I will get the opportunity to work for Project Dolphin, but I would have been even happier had my native state Bihar, which has half the population of all the river Dolphins in the world, been ready to take advantage of it. Unfortunately, the long-awaited National Dolphin Research Centre (NDRC) in Patna remains stuck for years for reasons best known to the authorities,” he said.
Last year, chief minister Nitish Kumar laid the foundation stone of the centre ahead of assembly elections after a long wait and even sanctioned funds to the building construction department (BCD), but things could not move beyond that.
“River dolphin is a highly endangered species under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and it was also declared the National Aquatic Animal in 2009. The NDRC would have been a big step forward for the mammal’s conservation, including in Bihar, which accounts for 50% of its global population,” Sinha added.
With the Prime Minister announcing Project Dolphin on the lines of Project Tiger to focus on both river and sea dolphins, there was hope that the setting up of the proposed centre in Bihar will get greater attention.
The erstwhile Planning Commission had sanctioned ₹28.06 crore for the Centre in 2013 and a year later in 2014, Bihar too released ₹19.16 crore to Infrastructure Development Authority (IDA) for its development. However, no development has taken place.
Sinha said he felt sorry for Bihar. “Had the National Dolphin Research Centre been ready, Bihar could have become the centre of activity [under Centre’s Project Dolphin]. Now, the condition of Ganga in Patna, which has a 25-km long bank with the river, is also bad. The river is drifting away and ongoing constructions in the river bed may permanently block the river flow near the city. It has badly affected Dolphin habitat in and around Patna,” he added.
In 2018-19, around 1,500 Dolphins were sighted in Ganga during a survey by experts. This also prompted the government to build India’s first Dolphin observatory, Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary, for the mammals in Bhagalpur. Another such observatory in Patna is in the pipeline.