The impact of the Jal Marg Vikas Project on Ganges River dolphins, in both the Ganga and Brahmaputra, could be catastrophic
Waterways are the best and cheapest mode of transport. Considering this, the Union government enacted the National Waterways Act, 2016, under which 111 inland waterways have been declared as National Waterways (NWs), in addition to the five existing NWs, across 24 states, for utilising them as an environment-friendly and sustainable mode of transport. Out of the 116 inland waterways, 38 are or were the habitat of the river dolphin.
The Jal Marg Vikas Project has been commissioned for capacity augmentation of NW–1 (theGanga river) from Haldia (West Bengal) to Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh), with an objective to facilitate the movement of 1,500–2,000 tonne vessels. The project has been undertaken with the technical and financial support of the World Bank at an estimated cost of Rs. 4,200 crore. It is scheduled to be completed in six years. Under this project, various sub projects include fairway development, construction of multi-modal terminals at Varanasi, Sahibganj (Jharkhand) and Haldia and a new navigation lock at Farakka (West Bengal).
Similarly, the National Waterway- 2 is in the Sadiya-Dhubri stretch of the Brahmaputra river in Assam. It extends from the confluence of the Kumdil and Brahmaputra rivers near Sadiya to the beginning of the river island Majuli and from there, through all the channels of the Brahmaputra on either side of Majuli, up to the island’s end and then up to the international border downstream of Dhubri.
To enable the passage of barges carrying 1,500-2,000 tonnes of cargo, the river stretch should have a width of 45 metres and a depth of 3 metres, for which large-scale dredging and construction of barrages, lock gates and ports will be required for large transport vessels to transit from Haldia to Allahabad in the Ganga and Dhubri to Sadiya in the Brahmaputra. There is strong reason for concern that the environmental impacts could be catastrophic for river dolphins and other aquatic biodiversityas well as fisheries vital to the food security of the country. Dolphin habitats are likely to be destroyed and wiped out in these stretches of the rivers. If there is no habitat, there will be no dolphins left to save.
India’s rivers support high levels of biodiversity, including globally endangered species such as the country’s National Aquatic Animal, the Ganges river dolphin, the fish-eating crocodile—the Gharial, and numerous freshwater turtles, fishes, and birds. These species are already threatened by population reductions, and by alterations and river flow regulation, besides, degrading river water quality due to pollution. In many areas, their populations have been locally extirpated or persist only in very small numbers. Waterway development in 1,620 kms of the Ganga Basin and 891 km of the Brahmaputra Basin would degrade the habitat and further fragment the populations of Ganges River dolphins. It is a matter of deep concern that the proposed scale of waterway development has the potential to cause the extinction of several endangered species, including the Ganges river dolphin.
A few critical aspects to be considered here:
Certainly, the picture looks extremely grim for the Ganges river dolphin.
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