Just months after the National Board of Wildlife rejected it, the Rajasthan government’s controversial proposal to build a well to draw out water for Kota from the National Chambal Gharial Sanctuary area has managed to win approval of from NBWL and the union ministry of environment and forests.
The greenlight flashed after chief minister Ashok Gehlot assured that all measures would be taken to ensure conservation of the Gharial. The Chambal sanctuary, spread across UP, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, is now the only viable home of the fish-eating Gharial that survives only in clean rivers. The species is one of the most critically endangered of crocodiles. Indeed, it came alarmingly close to extinction in the 1970s and it is estimated there are no more than some 200 gharials left in the wild now.
The sanctuary is also home to the threatened Gangetic Dolphins, Indian Skimmers, rare species of turtle and hundreds of migratory birds. And further withdrawal of water could prove fatal for both Gharials and the dolphins, the the Wildlife Institute of India has unequivocally said.
So, it had come as no surprise when the standing committee of NBWL, at its 28th meeting on March 2013, chaired by environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan, rejected the proposal for construction of an intake well near the left bank of Chambal river at Kota barrage reservoir. The committee had said that further exploitation of Chambal’s water was unacceptable for it would have “a deleterious effect on Gharials in the river”.
NBWL had at its March meeting also rejected Rajasthan’s proposal to set up a Clinker Grinding and Flyash Mixing Unit within 10 km of the sanctuary at Kota on the same grounds.
The Gehlot government, however, kept writing to the environment ministry to prevail on the NBWL to reconsider the project. In a July 19, 2013 letter, Gehlot assured that his government “would at all times ensure there is sufficient water to protect the Ghariyals.” The state got its own way: the project was discussed at two successive NBWL meetings on June 6 and September 4, when it was given the green nod.