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The Centre has stumbled upon a few encouraging nuggets while studying the Ganga, with the discovery of a flourishing aquatic life in a single stretch of the river, considered one of the most polluted in the world. After 70 years, the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII), which is enumerating aquatic life in the Ganga for the government, reported spotting Siebold's smooth scaled water snake, a mildly venomous serpent which grows to a maximum length of 76 cm, in the first leg of the survey of the river's mainstream from Bijnor to Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh. It also sighted 50 Gangetic dolphins, an endangered species, at 28 spots, up from 42 spotted in a 2015 study by the UP government, in the 570 km-long river stretch, sources in the union water resources ministry said. Scientists attached to the WII have also discovered new breeding spots of the Indian Skimmer bird, protected under Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, in the river basin. The concentration of the bird, a declining species which preys on aquatic animals from the river surface, is prominent in Allahabad, where 350 nesting birds were observed in the WII survey conducted between April 14 and April 25. Usually, the Indian Skimmer is found in the National Chambal Gharial Wildlife Sanctuary, located at the tripoint of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, and in the Mahanadi river basin. The study, carried out by a nine-member team including four biologists, also found 27 gharials, released by the Uttar Pradesh government in the past, in the Ganga, particularly in the Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary. It found several prominent species of turtles, including the three-striped roofed, black pond, crowned river, Indian flapshell, Indian softshell, Indian roofed, Indian tent and brown roofed turtles. "Contrary to popular perception that Ganga's water quality has deteriorated because of pollution, the findings suggest that biodiversity is still active," senior WII scientist SA Hussain told PTI. Hussain attributed the activity to restoration efforts promoted by the union water resources ministry through the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), which aims at cleaning up the river. "It is a wrong belief that everything in the Ganga has been lost. The fact is no one took efforts to save it.
Now we are trying to ensure a clean and vibrant Ganga," the ecologist added. To a question relating to the presence of the Gangetic dolphins, one of four kinds of freshwater dolphins in the world, in the particular stretch, Hussain said the number could be considered "big", given that the long-snouted mammal breeds only once in three or four years on an average. NMCG consultant (biodiversity centre) Sandeep Behera noted the "increase in distribution ranges of the animals and birds" in the particular stretch as a "very positive sign". He attributed the results to sustained awareness campaign carried out at the local level. "The animals, birds are migrating to places they find suitable from habitat point of view. Pollution is just one of the factors which affects habitat. "But there are other factors too like anthropogenic impacts which have reduced due to the awareness," Behera added. The next phase of the survey is expected to be conducted downstream of the Ganga from Kanpur, which is believed to be heavily polluted. The first ever across-the-river comprehensive scientific aquatic life count in the Ganga is to be conducted from Devprayag, Uttarakhand, to Sundarbans in West Bengal and is expected to be completed by this year.
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