Madhya Pradesh Railway Bridge Project
Straddling the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, having shaped the landscape of the area for centuries lies one of the most infamous of India’s rivers, the Chambal. Arising from the Vindhayas, covering almost a 1000-kilometre-long path, the waters of this river boasts a stunning myriad of bio-diversity. Because of its ecological value, a 5,400 km2 section of the Chambal and its surrounding areas have been protected under the National Chambal Gharial Wildlife Sanctuary in order to protect the host of species especially the critically endangered gharial, the red-crowned roof turtle and the endangered Ganges river dolphin. Sadly, the Chambal is no longer the haven for bio diversity it once was. A slew of illegal and mostly unaccounted for activities are to blame.
The ravines are home to few of the most critically endangered breeds of softshell turtles. These turtles are hunted down and he law enforcement in this regard is close to non-existent and therefore receives minimal attention. Also, due to the use of such deadly measures, not only does the turtle population perish, but so do gharial, marsh crocodile, river dolphin, otter and aquatic bird populations. Despite countless efforts to protect the animals in the region, the gharial population has plummeted, collapsing by 58% between 1997 to 2006. It is widely believed that an unidentified toxicant was the reason behind these mortality events. Despite such unfortunate events, these habitat losses receive no attention. The proposed construction will only worsen the situation.
With the new wave of industrialisation in India, especially the proposed construction of the Parbati-Kali Sindh-Chambal Link in the area, illegal stone and sand mining have also lead to the exploitation of the area. Stone Mining in the upper reaches of the river destroys otter habitats and holts. Diesel leaks from various pumps pollute the river, and consequently, many species face reproductive costs. There has also been a rise in the demand for river sand across the nation. And most of it is met through illegal sand mining. But these sand deposits are crucial breeding grounds for various animals including the gharials, turtles, Indian skimmers. And this situation is worsened by four dams situated upstream which hold back significant amount of sand depositions. Also, the proposed construction of the railway bridge will divert an estimate amount of 1360 million cubic metres of water, severing the only steady water source, endangering the ecological balance of the region. Furthermore, since there are scant laws in place to protect such atrocities, the locals believe that it is their rightful claim to continue such exploitation, going even as far as killing officials who dare interfere in their practices.
New development projects are required to conduct Environment Impact Assessments (EIAs), but as one would expect, they work on close to little scientific credibility, usually considered a mere bureaucratic justification tool used by corporations to receive public affirmation. The feasibility report of the Parbati – Kali Sindh – Chambal Link Project which is estimated to cost a whopping USD 500 million, makes several promises to rehabilitate the existing populations and provide them with life support and employment opportunities among other things, which as most often the case of any promises made to indigenous people, are predicted to be vain. Funnily enough, the report also claims that the construction will not threaten the flora and fauna, when the same report says that 244.4 hectares’ worth of forests will be submerged and the wood from those forests will be used in the construction process. Another fact is that the report barely touches upon the implications of the diversion of waters of the already strangled Chambal which will inherently disturb the flora and fauna of the region.
The manipulated EIA reports are evidence to the fact that most EIA consultants are toys in the corporations’ show, looking for industrial gain rather than safeguard our environment. This, in combination with failed policies, high corruption and economic growth at the cost of our future is proof that this project is a disaster in the making.