There are between five and 11 Indus river dolphins in the 185-km stretch of the Beas that flows through Punjab, according to the first organised survey by World Wildlife Federation-India and the state department whose report came out earlier this month.
After a search for three days since the spill of molasses from a sugar mill in Gurdaspur killed aquatic animals in the Beas, a team of Punjab’s forest and wildlife department finally sighted a dolphin in the river stretch at Karmuwala near the Harike headworks on Saturday evening.
Mahavir Singh, conservator (wildlife), confirmed the sighting: “A glimmer of hope has emerged that they are all safe.” There are between five and 11 Indus river dolphins in the 185-km stretch of the Beas that flows through Punjab, according to the first organised survey by World Wildlife Federation-India and the state department whose report came out earlier this month. “The health of the dolphin sighted was reported as normal by the team,” the officer further said. Photographic evidence was not immediately available.
Since the leak from Chadha Sugar Mill at Kiri Afgana village killed hundreds of fish, teams were fielded by the department in collaboration with WWF-India to check on dolphins and gharials. Some of the gharials — the river has 47 in all — were already sighted, but worries over the dolphins, among the rare species in the river, remained.
Further, Geetanjali Kanwar, coordinator for the WWF team, said they found the movement of the dolphin was fine, and the survey will conducted further to ascertain the exact condition of the animals. Earlier in the day, Mahavir said, “Had the dolphins died, the bodies would have been seen floating on the surface. It is a tough task to sight them anyway.”
He added that a final report of the survey and the autopsy of the dead fish would come on Monday. It should be able to suggest the fate of the species in the water, he added.
Report filed in court
The department prepared the report on Friday under the Wildlife Protection Act, and officials stayed in the court complex throughout the day but failed to file it in the court as the district attorney was busy. On Saturday too, they could not file it through the district attorney and submitted it directly instead. Confirming, district forest officer (Gurdaspur) Rajesh Mahajan said they have been told the report will be considered on Monday. The report is equivalent to a first information report (FIR) as is registered by the police. The mill management has said the leak was an accident.
‘Mill used to release fluid in river earlier too’
Further, on Saturday, Sushil Kumar, a fish contractor, said he had lodged a complaint to the department of fisheries on April 6 this year against the Gurdaspur sugar mill as it “used to spill acidic fluid into Beas river that caused me loss of lakhs of rupees”. A resident of Qadian, Kumar said the complaint was addressed to assistant director of the department at Hoshiarpur, “but no action was taken”. He also sought compensation from the government.
When contacted, Kulwinder Singh, the assistant director, said, “After the complaint, our team visited the site of the mill in the presence of the contractor, but found no such practice there”.
“This is a false allegations as our mill does not indulge any such activity,” said Munish Pal, the mill unit head”.