Project Dolphin generates excitement in West U.P.

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Project Dolphin on the 74th Independence Day, Bharat Bhushan is excited. Designated as a Ganga Mitra by World Wildlife Fund-India, he has adopted the ghat at Pushpavati Pooth village on the banks of Ganga near Garh Mukteshwar in Hapur district and wants the world to know that at least one family of three dolphins is sighted near the ghat which has mythological value.Pushpavati Pooth was the first Ganga Gram, declared by the then Minister for Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation Uma Bharti in 2016.Mr Bhushan, who has been working with World Wildlife Fund India for at least a decade, said he had used faith to instill the lessons of environmental protection in the villagers. “I start with kids and tell them that the mythological name of the dolphin is Gangeya and according to the Hindu faith, it was a dolphin that announced the arrival of the Ganga.”Mr Bhushan says his science is simple. “I tell people the stretch of Ganga where dolphins are found is devoid of pollution. It has changed the behaviour of communities who used to poach water animals for livelihood.”Mr Bhushan also pushes the devotees not to immerse anything in the Ganga. “They usually use the plastic cover for immersion of the remains of puja material and it is dangerous for dolphins. I have been meeting priests in the region and impressing upon them not to suggest people to immerse puja material in Ganga and declare it a paap (sin).Shahnawaz Khan, Coordinator WWF said single-use solid plastic waste is the biggest threat for the dolphins in the region, apart from sand mining. “It chokes the dolphins who unlike humans don’t have the capacity of reflex or automatic breathing. They have to be conscious to breathe. And as they are mammals, they have to come on the surface after every few minutes to breathe. During this period, if plastic waste covers its head, chances are that it will become unconscious and die. Even during rescue operations, we have to be extra-careful,” he noted.Mr Khan was part of the annual dolphin census organised by the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department and WWF-India along the 225 km long riverine stretch of Upper Ganga between the Bijnor and the Narora Barrage in 2019 as part of ‘My Ganga My Dolphin’ campaign. “In the census conducted for the first time using tandem boat survey method 35 dolphins including four calves were counted which is a healthy sign for species that has a long gestation period. The number was 22 in 2015,” he said.He pointed out that Gangetic dolphins was spread across the length of the river and according to the IUCN Red Data list, the total number of the endangered species was between 3500 and 4000. “Right now, our efforts are fragmented because of the paucity of funds and manpower. With Project Dolphin, it is expected that there will be a comprehensive and unified effort to save dolphins with a standard and practical methodology to count them.”M Semmeran, divisional forest officer, Bijnor said as Project Tiger helped to restore forest ecosystems, Project Dolphin would help restore Gangetic ecosystems, apart from increasing the number of the national aquatic animal. “Dolphin is a keystone species. If it is protected, turtle and gharial population in the region will also come into focus,” he reasoned. “The census should cover all the tributaries of Ganga and Yamuna. There have been frequent sightings in Ghagra river,” he suggested.Apart from industrial pollution and fishing nets, Dr Semmeran said one major concern was non-maintenance of the ecological flow of the river in lean season leading less swirl a low organic matter in the pool where dolphins prefer to stay.Meanwhile, Mr Bhushan said that the Project would bring employment opportunities to his village as tourism would surge. “But talking from my experience of seeing how the budgetary allocation for Ganga Gram was used on the ground, I want the government to involve people who are actively involved in environment protection in keeping a check on the flow of money.” To begin with, he wanted Pushpavati Pooth ghat to be made pucca (permanent). “Only a few days back a priest in his forties possibly drowned because of the surging Ganga and people covered it up as if he took Jal Samadhi!”

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