What should be the minimum water level required in the 435-km-long Chambal River Sanctuary for the conservation of endangered species like gharials, turtles and particularly dolphins, whose numbers are dwindling fast in the region? Though the Union Environment Ministry’s top wildlife research body, Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun has already defined the limit, the Standing Committee of the National Board of Wildlife (SC-NBWL) under the Ministry seems to be now having second thoughts over it. It has set up a panel comprising member secretary, NBWL, Dr HS Singh, member, NBWL, representatives of Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, Central Water Commission (CWC) and Irrigation Departments of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh that will define the minimum level required for sustaining the aquatic animal life in the Chambal river sanctuary that passes through Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
The move followed after Dr. H S Singh, one of the members of the SC-NBWL, during a SC-NBWL meeting held on October 11, opposed Madhya Pradesh Government’s proposal entailing diversion of of 0.95 ha of forest land from the sanctuary for construction of intake well, approach bridge and water pipeline.
Dr Singh pointed out that the WII had earlier submitted a report that the flow in Chambal during late winters and summers reduces a lot which is not sufficient for survival of dolphins and therefore the Standing Committee had decided not to consider any such proposals in the past for taking water from the Chambal river.
As per wildlife experts, the number of dolphins in Chambal river has been reduced by 13% in 4 years. There are just 68 dolphins left in the Chambal river sanctuary.
As per the WII, the minimum flow required to sustain the ideal habitat for gharial in Chambal river is 151-165 m3/sec and for the dolphin 266.42 - 289.67 m3/sec. But in December 2017 when Dehradun-based agency again monitored the discharge of Chambal river, it found flow had receded to 67 m3 /sec.
In 2011, the SC-NBWL had said that no new projects would be considered for withdrawing water from Chambal river which is already witnessing receding water flow. A report prepared by a team led by Superintendent, National Chambal Sanctuary, Sheopur which inspected the site on July 4, 2019 too had red-flagged such projects.