Two bits of environmental good news from India this week: (1) Earlier this week, India adopted the Gangetic River Dolphin, rare freshwater denizen of a few rivers in that region, as its National Aquatic Animal, as reported in India Today:
The Centre on Monday declared the river dolphin as the 'national aquatic animal' on a proposal moved by Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
Bihar, where the animal is known as Soòs, accounts for the largest number of Gangetic dolphins, whose number could now be only a few hundred. Besides the Ganga, the river dolphin is also found in the Brahmaputra, the Indus and their tributaries.
The smooth-skinned, grey-black dolphins come with long snouts.
"Like the tiger as national animal and the peacock as national bird, we have declared the dolphin as the national aquatic animal. It represents the health of the rivers, particularly the Ganga," environment and forest minister Jairam Ramesh said after the first meeting of the National Ganga River Basin Authority chaired by PM Manmohan Singh.
After the declaration, the government is expected to unveil a 'Project Dolphin' aimed at saving the rare freshwater species from extinction. The animal figures in Schedule-I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
(2) And hot on the heels of this good news comes word that the UPA coalition currently governing the country may have decided to shelve the potentially disastrous and tremendously hubristic plan to inter-link all of the country's major rivers into a national network, ostensibly to solve, in one fell swoop. both the chronic drought problems in the south and west, and the chronic monsoonal flooding in the north and east. The ambition was to build what would have amounted to the largest inter-river-basin water transfer project in the world! And the nationalistic BJP government which preceded the current one was really pushing hard for this boondoggle of a project as a matter of national pride, the environment (and pesky environmentalists) be damned. Fortunately, better sense seems to be prevailing in the current government, with the Union Minister for Environment & Forests, Jairam Ramesh, calling it a "human-ecological-economic disaster"! And it seems, the environmentalists had at least one powerful ally on this issue in Rahul Gandhi, who has spoken out openly against this project! As the Indian Express reports:
Less than a month after Rahul Gandhi warned against “playing with nature”, Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh said the idea of interlinking India’s rivers was a “disaster”, putting a question mark on the future of the ambitious project.
“The interlinking of rivers will be a human-ecological-economic disaster. It is easy to do interlinking on paper. Interlinking of rivers has limited basin value, but largescale interlinking would be a disaster,” Ramesh said at a press briefing today.
In Chennai last month, Rahul had expressed concern over the environmental fallout of interlinking. “We should not play with nature on such a massive scale,” he was quoted as saying.
I wonder whether Ramesh and Gandhi can actually kill this boondoggle entirely - because the BJP and other allies of the project are already gearing up to push back. The key may lie in another word used by Ramesh in describing the project as a disaster - not must ecological, but economic too! That may very well be the key turning point... one hopes.