Home / Politics / Policy /  Is coal transportation through Ganga impacting Gangetic dolphins?

New Delhi: An expert panel of the union environment ministry has now called for a study to monitor noise levels due to coal transportation and its impact on Gangetic dolphins which is India’s national aquatic animal.

The Ganga-Bhagirathi-Hooghly river system from Allahabad to Haldia was declared as the National Waterway No.1. The waterway extends from Haldia to Allahabad, a distance of 1620 km.

The issue was discussed during the meeting of environment ministry’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for thermal power projects on 14th February. EAC was discussing NTPC’s request for extension of permission for transportation of 1.5 mtpa (million tonne per annum) imported coal through National Waterway No. 1 from Sagar to Farakka along river Ganga for five years and to increase the quantity of imported coal from 1.5 mtpa to 3 mtpa.

In July 2014, the ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC) had given temporary permission for transportation of imported coal through National Waterway No.1 for a one-year period which was extended for one more year in July 2015. The permission was further extended for another six months till end of March 2017 end. Coal is transported for Farakka Super Thermal Power Project at Farrakka in Murshidabad district of West Bengal.

In 2015, the EAC had called for a long-term study on the impacts of varying traffic loads on aquatic flora and fauna, impacts of noise generated by the barge movement on Gangetic Dolphin and to conclusively come out as to what tonnage of coal can be transported through NW-1 in an environmentally sustainable manner.

The issue is significant as both the previous Congress led United Progress Alliance government and the present Bharatiya Janata Party led National Democratic Alliance government have advocated use of national waterways for bulk cargo movement.

Gangetic dolphin is an indicator species for the river ecosystem and is a protected animal under the Wildlife Protection Act (WLPA), 1972. It is also an endangered animal.

During the EAC’s meeting, NTPC submitted the study report of impact assessment of coal transportation conducted by the Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute (CIFRI), Kolkata. NTPC along with CIFRI also made a presentation on it.

As per the CIFRI study, impact on auditory systems of dolphins is not anticipated due to noise generation from barge movement but it recommended some mitigative measures such as restriction of barge movement to the designated pathway, fitting dolphin reflectors, maintaining low barge speed at less than 5 knot per hour in narrow stretches areas of Dolphin.

However, the EAC was not fully satisfied with it and noted that study requires more time.

“This study provides a useful and important benchmark data for biodiversity patterns and fish catch. However, CIFRI study was not able to directly measure impacts of noise on important species such as the Gangetic dolphin. The EAC noted that the biology of gangetic dolphins, particularly their echo-location system may be different from that of marine dolphins, and so it is not certain that the results for marine dolphin can be extrapolated to river dolphins," observed the EAC.

The panel also noted that the continued movement of barges requires maintenance dredging of the channel in the river. Dredging, even if in some stretches and limited in frequency, involves removal of 50cm to 1m of the river bottom causing disturbance to the river bottom.

“The CIFRI study has not covered the impact of this form of disturbance," MoEFCC’s expert panel noted.

The panel “opined that it is necessary to proceed with caution in this matter" and recommended increase of current level of coal transport of 1.5 MPTA to 3 MTPA for a period of one year.

“During this one year period, studies are to be carried out by a reputed research institute to specifically monitor noise levels and its impact on Gangetic dolphins as also the impacts of maintenance of dredging for the current and higher levels of barge traffic," EAC recommended.

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