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Ganga waterway environmental clearance delayed 14 times. Here’s why

Ganga waterway environmental clearance delayed 14 times. Here’s why

The

Inland Waterways Authority of India prepared the Environment Impact Assessment and Environmental Management Plan for the main components of this project in accordance with the World Bank Environmental Safeguard Guidelines.

These studies and reports are not included in the Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2006, which means that the ministry’s expert appraisal committee did not review the report and has not established specific terms of reference to conduct the impact assessment.

The standard protocol states that the appraisal committee reviews the environmental impact report and holds public hearings before recommending environmental clearance with certain conditions attached. These conditions are legally binding; they are monitored by the MoEF&CC; and in the case of non-compliance, even an ordinary citizen can approach the judiciary for recourse.

This can lead to results being presented and action plans not being developed with the required rigour. Concerns about conflict of interest arise from the fact that these mitigation plans will be supervised by the inland waters authority, which is also implementing agency.

The inland waterways authority has posted on its website a report titled “Study on the effect of navigational activities upon Dolphin in the National Waterway -1.” According to the IUCN Red List, the Gangetic River Dolphin is listed as an endangered species and is protected by Schedule-I of 1972’s Wildlife (Protection) Act.

The Ganga Waterway crosses the Vikramshila Gangetic Dairy Sanctuary in Bihar. According to the report, vessel movement and sound from dredging activities could have an impact on the River Ganga’s aquatic species. It may also have short-term and long-term effects on the riverine ecology.

The report includes an action plan to protect aquatic wildlife. The September 2020 report does not mention the peer-reviewed study by Mayukh Dey and colleagues (2019) that examines the effects of underwater noise exposure on Gangetic Dolphins in Ganga river.

Mayukh Dey (Research Affiliate, National Conservation Foundation) said that the inland waterways authority study about the impact on Gangetic Dolphins lacks scientific credibility. He says that the study does not contain the majority of current literature about dolphins. Some of the references in this report also refer to the impact of noise on marine mammals. The Gangetic dolphin is functionally blind, but the marine dolphin can see. However, the Gangetic dolphin relies on echolocation to navigate, hunt and communicate. The sounds of machinery in action, such as dredging and motors of river barsges, can seriously impair the river dolphin’s ability to perform their essential functions.

Kelkar, Wildlife Conservation Trust co-author and one of Dey’s coauthors, stated that the study was a missed opportunity because no experimental studies were done to determine the effectiveness of mitigation measures. This study, if it had been done, would have shown the way to how waterways can be managed effectively to reduce their impact on biodiversity.

In 2014, the MoEF&CC ordered the inland waters authority to commission studies from the Central Inland Fisheries Research Institutes (CIFRI) about the impact of coal transport along a stretch of Ganga Waterway in West Bengal. The study was to examine the Ganga Waterway’s route from Sagar through Farakka. The study showed that barges moved quickly and that fish assemblage structures changed rapidly. It was also found that the full impact could not be assessed for a longer period of times.

CIFRI’s study reveals the negative social impacts on fisherpeople, who are the most dependent on the riverine ecosystem. According to the study, “The fisherman rely largely on the fish catch for daily livelihoods.” “The fishing operations are directly affected when there is disruption from barge movement. Around 38% reported fishing time loss. The average loss per fisherman was Rs. The incidence of barge(s), movement on lower, middle and higher stretches was 0.75, 4.35, 17.63, and 17.63, respectively. This is the Sagar Farakka stretch, which is only 560km of the total 1,620km Ganga Waterway stretch.

Pradeep Chatterjee, co-founder of the National Platform for Small Scale Fishworkers in India (Inland), stated that the installation of the National Waterway-1 as well as part of the Indo-Bangladesh Protocol route which is National Waterway-97 has sounded death to Ganga’s fish resources and fishing communities dependent on it.

The CIFRI study found that the “marginal effect on aquatic flora and fauna, fishing, and livelihood of fishermen can be mitigated by the “plans” that are “easily implemented”.

The report found that coal transported in moist conditions and covered does not have a significant impact on river ecology. It also saves diesel, which reduces the carbon footprint compared to surface transport.

Chatterjee refers to the fly-ash-barge capsizes that took place on the Ganga Waterway and Indo-Bangladesh Protocol routes (NW-97) in 2020, 2021, and 2021 to highlight that “increased pollution from oil, coal and flow ash spillage combined, with turbulity and disturbances caused by continuous movement ships, barges and dredging are driving away whatever little fish stock is left.” Chatterjee stated that small-scale fishers are suffering tremendous economic losses as ships and barges regularly run over their nets and boats, resulting in huge economic loss.

Ganga waterway nearing completion, dangerous precedent for future projects

According to the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Waterways, 13 of 26 National Waterways are currently undergoing development activities, including the JMVP, according to the Rajya Sabha’s latest status report on March 29, 2020. These 13 projects include National Waterways of Goa (Mandovi, Zuari, and Cumberjua), stretches of National Waterway-4, Andhra Pradesh, and National Waterway-5, Odisha. However, due to the JMVP exemptions, the process has been stalled.

This would mean that the project is almost complete without any serious environmental impacts studies being done. This would mean that other projects are currently underway in other riverine areas without the required impact studies. The end result would be detrimental to the environment and the fish and wildlife that live in it, including the Gangetic dolphin, India’s National Aquatic Animal. There would also be serious economic losses for fishers and communities living near these rivers.

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