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Bugged by pollution, cementing, human activity, Modi govt may denotify Turtle Wildlife Sanctuary in Varanasi

Indian tent turtle, captured in TWS
By Our Representative
If a wildlife sanctuary is unable to preserve a particular species because of certain extraneous reasons, why not do away with it right away? This appears to be the new motto behind the BJP rulers in Uttar Pradesh, frantically wanting to implement Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious inland waterway project on Ganga. The waterway is slated to pass through Varanasi, Modi’s constituency.
A proposal is reportedly pending clearance with the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) to shut the 220 hectares (ha) Turtle Wildlife Sanctuary (TWS), situated in seven-km stretch of the Ganges between Rajghat (Malviya Bridge) to Ramnagar Fort in Varanasi district.
The proposal, according to a report in the news portal “The Wire”, comes close on the heels of a Wildlife Institute of India, study, “Assessment of Wildlife Values of the Ganga River from Bijnor to Ballia, Including Turtle Wildlife Sanctuary, Uttar Pradesh: Technical Report”, which states, “Out of 13 species of turtle reported from Ganga River, only 5 species were encountered during the field sampling…”
Assi Nala (drain) inside TWS
 Raising the alarm that there was a “very low encounter rate of turtles in TWS”, the study said, “high human disturbance leading to habitat alterations within a very small Protected Area.” It added, while “sites along the TWS in the left bank are seen to have the least suitable habitat for turtles” there is “high anthropogenic disturbances such as cemented ghats, intense ferry and boat activity, pollution, and human presence along the river.”
Pointing out that “the sand bar in the right bank of the TWS, though is an excellent habitat for turtles and breeding birds, is also under severe anthropogenic pressure”, the study stated, the sanctuary even today is “providing a refuge to the biodiversity of this riverscape, especially to the scavenging turtle species”, which are a great “help to reduce the organic load of the river in the form of unburnt/partially burnt bodies.”
The study, which is based on “a rapid ecological assessment for freshwater turtles and associated aquatic species … conducted from April to May 2018”, further said, “During the study period, despite robust sampling in the summer season using a variety of survey methods, capture rates for turtle species was low, indicating a low abundance of turtles in the TWS… attributed to poor aquatic habitat quality and high anthropogenic disturbances within the TWS.”

Construction of jetty near Ramnagar
Following the study, the state government reportedly promptly submitted a proposal to the Government of India asking for the sanctuary to be ‘denotified’ following a meeting of the State Board of Wildlife of Uttar Pradesh on August 30, 2018. Quoting exclusive documents in its possession, the report notes, the reason stated by the DFO, Kashi wildlife division, to the National Board for Wildlife is that “the sanctuary is not fulfilling its purpose”, hence it should be “denotified”.
Another letter is by chief conservator of forests SK Awasthi, dated September 5, 2018, sending an “authorization letter to Manoj Khare, DFO, Kashi wildlife division, “to submit a proposal regarding denotification of TWS in view of the decision taken in the eighth meeting of the state board of wildlife, UP, on August 30, 2018 after due consideration and diligence exercised in the matter.”
Comments environment journalist Bahar Dutt, who has authored the report, “If the Centre approves the proposal to denotify TWS, this will be the first protected area to be completely wiped off the map of India since the introduction of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.”

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