Indus Dolphin, one of the world’s rarest mammals, has not been sighted in Beas river ever since molasses from a sugar factory leaked into it, leaving a large number of fish dead, officials said on Saturday.
About 40 sq km area from Goindwal Sahib to Harike is the natural habitat of the critically endangered dolphins which are found only in India and Pakistan. The officials said there was considerable damage to the aquatic life after molasses from a sugar factory leaked into the river in Beas town, about 40 km from Amritsar, on May 17.
“We have been searching for dolphins in Beas river but they have not been sighted yet by our teams which have been looking for them after the incident,” Punjab Chief Wildlife Warden Kuldeep Kumar said on Saturday. Around 30 members of the World Wide Fund for Nature-India (WWF) along with teams of district forest officials have been searching for dolphins in Beas. The visibility was also low because the water had turned rusty brown due to pollutants.
“We are hoping that dolphins may have survived,” Kumar said. According to the latest census, there were between six to 12 Indus dolphins in Punjab. The strength of Indus Dolphins in Pakistan is estimated be around 1,800, said Kumar. Meanwhile, gharials remained unaffected after the spill, the official said. “Gharials are safe. We have spotted around 16 of them in upstream of Beas river,” said Kumar, adding that he strength of Gharials is estimated to be 47.
“There has been considerable damage to aquatic fauna because of molasses getting spilled into the river,” said Kumar. Tonnes of fish died because of reduced oxygen level in the water, he said. “Even the fish seeds (fertilised eggs) have also damaged in this incident,” he said. As many as eight to ten varieties of fish, including cat fish, common carp, died because of pollutants in the river, he said.
Meanwhile, fish continued to die as water containing pollutants reached Tarn Taran and Ferozepur districts, he said. “Yesterday, water mixed with molasses reached Rajasthan feeder canal. An alert was issued to villagers not to use canal water for drinking purposes,” Kumar said. However, he said the situation has improved to a large extent in Beas following the release of fresh water.
The Punjab government on Friday ordered the seizure of security deposit worth Rs 25 lakh of the sugar factory. It had ordered the sealing of the Chaddha Sugar Mill of Kirri Afgana in Gurdaspur from where molasses leaked into the Beas and caused the death of fish.
A probe was ordered into the incident and the report of which would be submitted within three days.