As the Narendra Modi Government embarks on its ambitious Haldia-Varanasi Inland Waterways Project along the Ganga, researchers from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur and Wildlife Institute of India (WII), among others, have red flagged the project over its adverse impact on the Varanasi Turtle Sanctuary (VTS).
The project, National Waterway-1 (NW-1) under the Jal Marg Vikas Project (JMVP), requires dredging of the river, which will severely impact the aquatic life as well as entire bio-diversity of the river, said researchers in a study that appeared in the latest edition of “Current Science.”
Notified under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, way back in 1989, the VTS — a 7-km long stretch from Ramnagar to Malaviya Bridge in Ganga River — is the world’s only protected area dedicated to freshwater turtles.
Gaurav Kailash Sonkar and Kumar Gaurav from Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Bhopal, Niladri Dasgupt and Syed Ainul Hussain from Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and Rajiv Sinha from Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur examined the eco-geomorphology of the VTS for its stability using hydraulic geometry of the channels, such as width, depth and discharge acquired from an acoustic doppler current profiler, and the mapping of planform morphology from remote-sensing images.
“The assessment suggests a well-defined, stable cross-section profile along this stretch of the river. It provides conclusive evidence that the geomorphology of the Ganga river within the VTS has remained stable for the past 50 years, except for some minor changes in the form of bar growth and erosion both upstream and downstream of the sanctuary,” the report said.
However, the researchers warned that any construction activity, which is bound to happen once the National Waterway-1 starts, does not augur well for the tortoise as well as other aquatic animals in the sanctuary.
“Construction activities along the bank, movement of large vessels, sand mining in the sanctuary or dredging of the main channel may destabilise the river geomorphology that will negatively affect the integrity of the VTS as well as the ghats at Varanasi,” they cautioned.
Apart from turtles, this stretch of the Ganga is important for other conservation dependent species such as gharials (Gavialis gangeticus), dolphins (Platanista gangetica) and several island nesting birds.
The proposed Jal Marg Vikas Project (JMVP) is aimed at enabling the passage of cargo ships and boats through VTS. After a preliminary analysis of the morphology and hydraulic parameters of the Ganga at VTS, the researchers discuss how the passage of boats and cargo ships through the sanctuary may affect the physical habitat by inducing changes in the channel morphology of the river.”
This is expected to disrupt the morphological and ecological sanctity of VTS. In order to evaluate the impacts of these large-scale interventions, it is important to assess the scale of alteration(s) they may cause to the eco-geomorphic attributes of the river, the researchers concluded.
As per the Government plan, NW1 will go from Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh to Haldia in West Bengal along the Ganga and then along its arms — the Bhagirathi and the Hooghly. It will involve the construction of more barrages along the river, and heavy dredging of silt, so that a width of 45 metres and a depth of 3 metres can be maintained throughout. This would enable passage for barges carrying 1,500-2,000 tonnes of cargo.
The 1,620-km long national waterways project will be funded jointly by the Centre and World Bank at an estimated cost of Rs 5369.18 crore.