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Indian Rivers Under Covid-19 Virus

Adrian Pinder chairs session of Rivers under Virus remote meeting

Discussion Meeting on Impacts of Covid-19 Virus upon Indian Rivers

In attendance:


(left to right): Rakesh; Surabhi; Paromita; Naren

West India - Rakesh Patil; volunteer with urban community river clean-up campaign group.

North India - Surabhi Singh; river connectivity, dams and e-flow specialist, Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW).

East India - Paromita Ray; mahseer research in rivers and forests of Odisha, Chattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Wildlife Conservation Society India (WCS).

South India - Naren Sreenivasan; human/animal conflict expert, landowner adjoining Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, alongside River Cauvery, Wildlife Association of South India (WASI).

Central India - Shriparna Saxena; limnologist, research student guide, Mahseer Conservation Project, Madhya Pradesh Forest Department.

Observer - Kangkanika Neog; Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW)

(left to right) Shriparna; Kangkanika; Steve; Adrian


Steve Lockett - Mahseer Trust

Adrian Pinder - Mahseer Trust/Bournemouth University

One of the issues discussed during this meeting was about reports of increased poaching across the country.

We were all shocked to learn, over the weekend, about the deaths of Mahesh (aged 26-years-old) and Shivakumar (33-years-old), while on active patrol with Karnataka Forest Department. They were part of a team sent to investigate reports of illegal fish poaching in the Kabbini backwaters, at Gundre Range inside Bandipur Tiger Reserve. This area is part of the distribution of the Critically Endangered hump-backed mahseer, Tor remadevii.

During a scuffle with the poachers, the two young men were in a coracle that overturned. Mahesh became entangled in a fishing net and drowned. Shivakumar is missing, presumed dead.

Our thoughts are with the families of these two, who gave their lives in the battle to make India’s forests and rivers better, safe places for all.

(Our report is based on multiple stories, within which there are inconsistencies. Hopefully Shivakumar will be found and the Forest Department will produce a final, clear report in the very near future.)

Reports from India suggest that pollution is in decline, with clear skies reported and people finding air is fit to breathe again. With multiple stories across a range of media platforms talking about rivers also appearing clean, Mahseer Trust decided to convene a discussion to collect more information and consider how best to use this, if it proved to be accurate.

Opening the discussion, Steve Lockett (Mahseer Trust) said that ‘although concerned mainly with water pollution, there are other forms of pollution which may be having impacts and consequences during lockdown. These include air pollution, but also falls in sound pollution may be having a positive impact upon movements of Gangetic dolphins and changes in light pollution have been shown to impact upon insect populations.’

Among the other impacts of lockdown expected to be discussed were flow rates and novel forms of pollution caused by loss of markets.

Summary of Main Points Raised

+ Opportunity for all to think differently about rivers

+ Rise in concerns and understanding about river habitats

+ Increased fish fry survival seen

+ Pollution Control Boards (PCBs) taking samples more frequently

+ Reports of increased flow rates

+ Reports of decreasing turbidity

+ Religious activity and associated pollutions halted

+ Falling levels of industrial effluent

+ Possible decrease of sand mining

+ Rise in numbers of app-based water quality monitoring and community interest

- Human sewage levels not declining

- Project planning clearance ongoing despite difficulties of (especially local) oversight

- Power generation by-product spills

- Fishing pressure increased due to need for protein sources

- Commercial fisher communities' loss of markets

- Lack of knowledge leading to all fish of all ages being taken

- Dumping of agricultural products and waste is rising

- Dangers of increase in disposal of personal protective equipment

Among the steps discussed to move the debate forward, Paromita Ray (WCS) said that ‘even small, positive changes in the metros will be significant, if they can be sustained.’ Further out of the cities, concerns were raised from many areas about the desperate need for people to feed themselves leading to a rise in poaching.

In many cases there are conflicting reports in mainstream media and the group discussed how these reports could be verified. Among the alarming stories is a suggestion that Ganges water is now fit for drinking. Kangkanika Neog (CEEW) said that; ‘it is important that journalists present correct information. Distorted or false media portrayals can have unintended effects, especially when read by less well informed public.’

In conclusion, Naren Sreenivasan (Wildlife Association of South India) said; ‘the big lesson for all from this pandemic is about cleanliness. Washing hands, keeping surfaces free of germs, all of which also require clean water. We all need to appreciate the direct link between this clean water supply and the ecological integrity of our rivers and lakes, and aquatic biodiversity.’

On Monday 4th May we will hold another remote discussion, this time for input from: Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Once complete, we will prepare a longer output based on local and regional concerns.


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