Terming the molasses spill in Beas river as a long-term damage to fish bio-diversity in the state, well-known expert on fisheries, fish biology and fish systematics, Dr MS Johal, said that immediate steps must be taken to save the aquatic ecosystem in the area of the spill as well as downstream.
In an interview to The Indian Express, Prof Johal, who has done extensive research in fish conservation and population dynamics of fish, said that by a conservative estimate it may take five years to come back to near normal from the severe setback.
“It is very serious matter as far as the damage to the aquatic life is concerned. Fish life is the indicator of water quality. If something is wrong with the fish then it means that the entire aquatic ecosystem is in problem because the fish are the highest level of organism in the aquatic ecosystem,” said Johal.
He contested the statement of the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) officials that that the water in the river is now of better quality. “The fish which have died due to this spill were going to breed in the coming monsoon season. Now, they will not add new crop and new progeny to the river. This means that there will be acute shortage of fish in the coming years in this river,” he said.
Johal said that the with the introduction of molasses in the water all those organisms have also been killed which were the food of fish. “All those fish have also been killed who were the food of the dolphins and the gharial. And ultimately their health and growth will also be affected. The spill has led to an exothermic process leading to a rise in the temperature of the water and making it acidic in nature. Due to this the food which clings to stones and other objects in river has also become eroded,” he added.
Johal said that his research has shown that there are 112 kinds of fish in the waters of Punjab and most of them are vulnerable and threatened. Out of these 112 species there are around 45 in Beas river. “As many as 75 per cent of the fishes need conservation, with this episode all and with all the water which has gone downstream, the entire population of fish will get killed. In coming years there will be no population of fish in that stretch,” he said.
When asked about the methods to undo the damage done and whether the release of water from Pong reservoir will help, Johal said the release of water from upstream is a temporary measure to dilute the water because the polluted water will go downstream and cause damage there as well. “When it is reasonably assured that there is no residue of the molasses left, young fish should be transplanted in this affected stretch of Beas to repopulate. The government should form a committee comprising fisheries experts to monitor the situation and regular assessment of the situation should be made,” he said.