Conservation of Ganges River Endangered Dolphin

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Prof. J. S. Yadav

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced “Project Dolphin” on the lines of Project Tiger and Project Elephant. Addressing the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15 2020 he said the project dolphin will “strengthen biodiversity, create employment opportunities and attract tourism”.

As Tiger is to Forest, Dolphin is to River

SAVE DOLPHIN, SAVE MA GANGA

The endangered Ganges River Dolphin (Platanista gangetica), is popularly known as Souns in Hindi. It was once present in tens of thousands in the Ganga River and its tributaries. It has dwindled to less than 2000 owing to direct killing, habitat fragmentation by constructing dams and barrages to divert Ganga water for irrigation and generating electricity, indiscriminate fishing and pollution of the rivers.

The Ganges River Dolphin is listed in the schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection Act, 1972. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) categorized it as the critically ‘endangered species’ in 1996.

Thus, the Ganges River Dolphin enjoys high levels of legal protection, both nationally and internationally

The Ganges River Dolphin looks like a fish but is actually an aquatic mammal. Its istinctive feature is its long projecting snout. It is about 2 to 2.70 meter long and weighs about 100 to 150 kilograms. It is dark brown in colour. It is blind but very sensitive to sound and moves around and prey fishes on the basis of sound under water.  Every 1-2 minutes it comes to surface for breathing.

In 1991, the Government of Bihar designated a 50 KM segment of Ganga River between Sultanganj and Kahalgaon as Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary (VGDS) to protect the dolphin in this sector of the Ganga.

In January 2014 the Bhagalpur Water Supply Project Report was prepared by ICF GHK Consultants with the support of Asian Development Bank*. It envisaged to use surface water source of river Ganga flowing along northern boundary of the Bhagalpur town and also to abstract water from the river through a pair of intake wells sunk in the river bed at about 100 meter inside from the bank. Digging and pumping operations would cause noise that may further endanger dolphin. To mitigate the noise and to reduce pollution due to city sewerages flowing into the Ganges in range of Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary stretching over 25 km upstream to 25 km downstream of the town, engineering solutions were planned.

Among many tasks and recommendations, it was suggested in the report that a Dolphin Park close to the site of new Bhagalpur Water System be built under Public Private Partnership as the major attraction and landmark of Bhagalpur town where people come for outings and relaxations. The Dolphin Park should be well endowed with information and education resources on Dolphin, wildlife and biodiversity at VGDS, and Bhagalpur area. The proposed Dolphin Park would be the distinct land mark of the Bhagalpur city.

Biodiversity at VGDS

Dolphin

Indian Skimmer: A Threatened Bird

Greater Adjutant stork: Critically Endangered Bird

Smooth-coated otter in VGDS

Since then not much was done on that “Environment Impact Assessment Report”. It is the mention of conservation of Dolphin by the Prime Minister from the Ramparts of the Red Fort on15 August 2020 that has stirred the Government into action.

However, the absence of a coordinated conservation plan, lack of awareness and continuing anthropogenic pressure are posing and will continue to pose an incessant threat to the existing Dolphin population. As such, a well-coordinated conservation plan supported by well thought out communication strategy and plan for advocacy with policy makers, sensitization and skill development of wild life protection program personnel and creating mass awareness among the public are necessary for conservation of the Ganges River Dolphin in VGDS area.

Communication Strategy

The protection and conservation of Dolphin and Bio-Diversity at Bhagalpur VGDS effective communication strategy is needed to reach different stakeholders through appropriate media messages designed creatively for different media vehicles in English, Hindi and in local dialect. A well planned communication campaign rather than isolated communication / media inputs so that the efforts become more effective and worth the money spent.

Keeping in view the situation analysis of endangered Ganges River Dolphin, the challenges and concerns of its protection and conservation, a well thought out Action Plan is needed. Here are some suggested steps to be followed.

  1. Mass Awareness using mass media and mid-media; TV Radio, Print Media Advertising, programs and coverage, pamphlets / folders, posters, hoardings and wall writings and local folk performances. The local community radio could be an effective medium of information dissemination and debate on conservation and protection of Dolphin and other bio-diversity of VGDS.
  2. Advocacy with senior policy decision makers for commitment, funding, policies, and organizational support to programs and activities for protection and conservation of Ganges Dolphin in VGDS. These will include senior (a) administrators in Bihar Government and Bhagalpur Municipal Corporation, especially those dealing with environment, (b) the elected representative from the region, (c) the prominent industrialists/ businessmen, (d) media professionals, creative persons and other opinion leaders, and (e) tourism industry.

Short workshops can be organized for them supported by appropriate IEC materials/ media kits.

  1. Sensitization and skill development of program managers and ground level staff about the importance of protection and conservation of Dolphin and skills to actualize and implement various activities.
  1. Environment Education among youth in school and colleges about Dolphin and other bio-diversity; birds and animals found in VGDS through entertaining materials and field visits, drawing, debates and knowledge contests.
  1. Community mobilization: Communities will be invited to actively participate in planning and implementing behaviour change communication activities to promote improved environment, sanitation and hygiene. Community mobilization is essential for desired practices to become the norm in the community.
  1. Entertainment Education: Entertainment Education comprises the production and dissemination of messages that are educational in substance, entertaining in structure and popular in style. Street theatre, radio dramas, videos, school plays, songs, games, and stories can be effectively used to promote environment education.

 

  1. Marketing Bhagalpur as Dolphin and Environment Tourist Destination: There is need for marketing Bhagalpur as a national and international tourist destination. A well-developed Dolphin Park and conducted tours of the rich bio-diversity of the VGDS could be a great commercial success leading to enhancement of economic activities, employment and growth of the city there by the changing the image of Bhagalpur from city known for “Blinding” and “Communal” violence cases to city of Dolphin and Environment Tourism Destination. In this TV, Internet and social media like face book and U-Tube can play a significant role.

* Environmental Impact Assessment Report January 2014

Asian Development Bank

TA – 7884 IND: Capacity Building for Bihar Urban Infrastructure Development Project;  

Prof. J. S. Yadav was Communication Consultant for the Project.

Prof. J. S. Yadav is former Director of Indian Institute of Mass Communication, and is Founder Chairman of International Media Institute, Gurugram, Haryana NCR & Consulting Editor-ICN Group.

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