Speed restrictions and sound alerts mooted for protection of dolphins

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor had raised the issue in Parliament on July 11

July 14, 2019 10:21 pm | Updated 10:21 pm IST - Kolkata

The population of the Ganges dolphin has been pegged between 150 and 200.

The population of the Ganges dolphin has been pegged between 150 and 200.

Restricting the speeds of vessels and blowing sirens and horns is how the Ministry of Shipping plans to safeguard the population of the Ganges River Dolphin, in the country’s one dolphin reserve through which National Waterway-1 connecting Haldia to Varanasi passes.

The response by the Ministry was tabled in Parliament on July 11 in response to a question by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor.

Mr. Tharoor asked about steps taken by the government to ensure that the dolphins will not be adversely affected by the National Waterways Project, among other questions on the subject.

The Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary (VGDS), from Sultanganj to Kahalganj on the Ganga in Bihar is the only dolphin sanctuary in the country. The Ministry in its response admitted that the Sultanganj-Kahalgaon stretch of National Waterway-1 passes through it.

“Vessel speed would be restricted to 2.7 knots in Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary (VGDS) area to reduce the noise generation from propeller… lf any aquatic mammal/dolphin is spotted, then the measures will be taken to push it away through sirens/signals,” the Ministry said.

The other mitigation measures, according to the Ministry, include fitting vessels with propeller guards and dolphin deflectors to minimise dolphin accidents and using non-toxic paints for painting vessels.

The Ministry said the mitigations are based on Comprehensive Environmental and Social lmpact Assessment (ESIA) study on National Waterway-I including on stretches falling within VGDS.

Officials out of loop

S. Sudharkar, Divisional Forest Officer, Bhagalpur, who is directly responsible for maintenance of the sanctuary, said the forest department has neither got any proposal about the plying of vessels through the dolphin sanctuary nor on the mitigation measures.

Arvind Mishra, member of IUCN Species Survival Commission said the Ministry’s response of blowing sirens after spotting dolphins clearly brings to the fore the limited understanding of behaviour and habitat of the Ganges dolphin.

“Dolphins are difficult to spot and even after they are spotted if sirens are sounded it will not only disturb them more but also a number of other migratory birds and aquatic fauna,” he said.

Mr. Mishra said that using the Ganga for navigation will be detrimental to the biodiversity of the river.

Experts have pegged the population of the Ganges dolphin in VGDS from 150 to 200.

Samir Sinha, Division Head - Species Recovery & Protected Area Recovery, Wildlife Trust of India, said the habitat of the Ganges dolphin is not limited to the sanctuary.

Experts also warned that dredging the river bed will disturb the ecosystem and river geo morphology, something which the forest officials also agree.

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