A move is afoot for allowing the construction of an intake well for drawing water from Madhya Pradesh’s National Chambal Sanctuary to Sheopur district despite concerns raised by the State Chief Wildlife Warden and Wildlife Institute of India (WII) that such a structure not only threatens the survival of gharials, crocodiles and turtles located on both sides of the river bank but also the fragile ecosystem.
The region is the last abode of gharial, Batagur turtle, Indian skimmer and also has a significant population of national aquatic animal Gangetic Dolphin and state fish Golden Mahasheer, most of these being critically endangered Schedule-I species on the verge of extinction.
However, ignoring the warnings, the MP State Wildlife Board last year gave green signal to the proposal and has forwarded it to the Standing committee of the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) of the Union Environment Ministry for its approval.
According to sources in the Ministry, the proposal pertains to carving out of 1.267 hectares of land including .635 hectares of protected area from the Sanctuary for construction of the intake well for Sheopur district.
“The water shall be carried through approach bridge and further through pipeline along the alignment of the road within the width of existing road shoulder,” said the MP Government.
During discussion, the members of the NBWL’s Standing Committee in its recent meeting noted that State Chief Wildlife Warden had not recommended the proposal on the ground that it was in the close proximity of the habitat of crocodile, gharial, Indian skimmers, turtle and dolphin and that it will adversely affect natural habitat, nesting and basking sites of the aquatic species.
A report prepared by a team led by the Superintendent, National Chambal Sanctuary, Sheopur which inspected the site on 4 July, 2019 has corroborated the State Chief Wildlife Warden’s concerns as it pointed out that the construction might affect the nesting sites of gharial, turtle and mugger which are almost 800 to 1000 meters upstream from the proposed location of the intake well.
Inquisitively, this report has not been submitted to the NBWL.
The team also noted that the site is routinely visited by many birds. “After lifting the water with this project, the migration of aquatic species may stop due to the low flow of water in summer season. This will affect the breeding, spawning and migration of prey base, thus feeding of the endangered species.”
The report further reads that the “current flow of the sanctuary is already below the minimum required ecological flow... Any further disturbance in the minimum ecological flow, all these endangered aquatic animals will be affected adversely.”
In fact, the WII in its study conducted in 2011 too had suggested that the minimum flow required to sustain the ideal habitat for gharial in Chambal river is 151-165 m3/ sec and for the dolphin the minimum flow required to sustain the ideal habitat is 266.42 - 289.67 m3 / sec.
In December 2017, when WII again monitored the discharge of the Chambal river, it found that the flow has declined to 67 m3/sec.
National Chambal Gharial Sanctuary is spread across three states- Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. It is estimated that at present, there are merely 200 gharials in the forests.
According to a study by the WII in 2010, “The construction of pillars, the intake well and the jack well will adversely affect the river bed and the sand bar directly; are likely to change the river morphology, which will affect the gharial nesting beaches and enhance sedimentation in the downstream.
“If these projects become operational, there will be no flow in the river and there will be deficit in water availability in the downstream.” Experts say that the flow regime of the river has already shown a declining trend in the last two decades and resulted in isolated sub-populations of gharials and dolphins.