The Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) has decided not to allow luxury cruise vessels on Ganga to sail beyond Varanasi after objections by the state wildlife department. As of now, the cruises coming from Patna go up to Chunar in Mirzapur.
The restrictions follow as vessels were passing through the tortoise sanctuary without permission from the Chief Warden of Wildlife Protection. The decision was taken at a meeting of forest department officials and IWAI officials at a workshop in Varanasi Friday.
Assistant Director (Varanasi Sub-Regional Office, IWAI), A K Mishra, said: As of now, the vessels will be stopped at Khirkiya Ghat in Varanasi. The stretch of the tortoise sanctuary starts after that. We will apply for proper permissions. “
On Thursday, Divisional Forest Officer (Chandauli), Manoj Sonkar, stopped plying of the vessels pointing out to the IWAI that it had no valid permission from the Chief Warden for plying in a tortoise sanctuary. “They had assured that permission would be taken. But so far they have not applied for it. In the meeting, it was decided that necessary clearances will be first sought by IWAI before the vessels can be allowed to pass the sanctuary,” said Sonkar.
The tortoise sanctuary, declared so in 1988, is a seven-kilometre stretch between Rajghat and Ramnagar in which tortoise, Gangetic Dolphins and other water animals are found. It was planned as a habitat for endangered water animals, besides using carnivorous tortoise as bio-pollutant removers. “Movement of motorised boats apparently has an impact on their breeding, besides causing other problems,” said Mishra.
On August 28, the first river cruise vessel, ABN Rajmahal, had come to Varanasi and gone up to Chunar, after a gap of nearly five years. This was seen as a sign of revival of the National Waterway No. 1 (NW-1), declared so in 1986, from Kolkata to Allahabad.
Sources said the meeting between forest department and IWAI officials took place at a workshop in Varanasi conducted by the latter. The workshop was aimed at discussing ways and means to keep the river navigational through the year.
Mishra said another cruise vessel was scheduled to arrive in the next few days. “They have reworked the itinerary and are taking the tourists to Chunar and other nearby places by road and returning from Khirkiya Ghat.