PM Modi turned his attention to an aquatic species on Independence Day 2020. He launched Project Gangetic Dolphin on 15th August, a 10-year government scheme to protect and increase the numbers of the endangered species. Needless to say, environmentalists are thrilled. It was 11 years ago that the Ganga River Dolphin was declared the national aquatic animal of India by the National Ganga River Basin Authority (NGRBA) in 2009.
Ganga River Dolphins are eco-indicators
River dolphins are ecological indicators of the health of the ecosystem in which they are present. They used to thrive in the past, but their population has reduced drastically in India’s rivers thanks to their fishing and indiscriminate killing, and new dams and barrages that fragmented their territories. They survive only in freshwater and are blind. They form an image of their prey through ultrasonic sound that bounces off the smaller fish.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has moved Ganga river dolphins to the “endangered” category. They are also in Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972), and are on the list of species in the government scheme Development of Wildlife Habitat.
CSR to protect dolphins
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has also been involved in protecting these intelligent creatures. Last year, DCB Bank and WWF-India joined hands to conserve the endangered Indus River Dolphin in the Beas Conservation Reserve. They are working closely with the Department of Forests and Wildlife Preservation, Government of Punjab, to protect the species and its habitat.
Back in 2012, HSBC Bank CSR’s ‘My Ganga, My Dolphin’ campaign surveyed the entire Ganga river and its tributaries (Yamuna, Son, Ken, Betwa, Ghagra and Geruwa) to record the activities of dolphins. The CSR programme also raised awareness about the importance of saving this people-friendly species among the local communities and contributed to capacity building of conservation-oriented stakeholders. ‘My Ganga, My Dolphin’ led to the preparation of what became the Dolphin Action Plan, 2010–2020, by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF). This plan has laid the groundwork for threats to these aquatic mammals, the impact of canals, and the decrease in their prey.
Will Project Dolphin be a success?
The success of the Indian government’s Project Tiger and Project Elephant is the stuff of history. So we have high hopes for Project Dolphin. The scheme will work closely with different ministries and government departments (Jal Shakti, shipping, agriculture, fisheries, power and rural development), besides state governments. MoEF is working towards addressing conservation concerns. It will work with stakeholders (fisherman and communities dependent on rivers) in tackling river pollution and sustainable fishing through scientific methods. How successful it is in saving the precious dolphin, 2030 will tell.