In a significant development, the Central government has launched a programme for conserving the 244-km-long Periyar river in Kerala. The waterbody is among six rivers across the country that are being covered under the National River Conservation Plan. The other rivers are Barak, Mahanadi, Narmada, Godavari and Kaveri.
The conservation project, named “Periyar River Basin Conservation Project”, is an integrated mission under the aegis of the Government of India. A two-day workshop was conducted at Thekkady on Monday and Tuesday as part of the project.
Commenting on the project, Ruchi Badola, registrar and scientist, Wildlife Institute of India (WII), told The Hindu that Periyar river has been selected for the project considering the endemism of the river. “The river consists of rich biodiversity and we need to protect it,” Dr. Badola said.
“The first step involves creating scientific data on Periyar river. Secondly, the drivers of the river needs to be identified. In addition, source of pollution and steps to mitigate it would be identified,” Dr. Badola said.
He further said that a scientific survey will be conducted to assess ecological status of the river, while ensuring community-level participation in the project. “The project aims at ensuring ecological restoration of the river and conservation of its biodiversity,” Dr. Badola said.
According to officials, the project is being implemented in association with the State Forest department, Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR) and Periyar foundation. “Eco-development committees under the Forest department and tribespersons will participate in the Clean Periyar project. In the National Mission for Clean Ganga project, there was huge participation of various communities,” he said.
Rajeev Raghavan, Assistant Professor of Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies (KUFOS), said that a total of 108 fish species are found in the Periyar. “Fifty-five out of 108 are endemic to the Western Ghats, 24 species are endemic to Kerala, 11 are endemic to the Periyar River and 9 are endemic to Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR). Twenty-nine species are included in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN),” Dr. Raghavan said.
“The protection of rivers also helps in conservation of rare fish species and ensure livelihood of communities,” said Dr. Raghavan.
Anil Kumar Bharadwaj (retired Principal Chief Conservator of Forest) inaugurated the two-day workshop. Rajan Gurukkal, former Vice-Chancellor, Mahatma Gandhi University, Syed Ainul Hussain, former scientist and consultant, River Conservation Project, Prof. Bijukumar, Head of the Department, Aquatic Biology, Kerala University, P.O. Nameer, Assistant Professor, Forestry College, Thrissur, P.S. Essa, wildlife expert, Rajeev Raghavan, Assistant Professor of Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies( KUFOS), Simon Francis, Former Assistant Field Director (PTR) and James Zakarias, (retired) Deputy Conservator (PTR) among others attended the workshop.