Ganga fish a health hazard

THE TIMES OF INDIA [12 March 2001]
By Aneeta Sharma

PATNA: The high level of pollutants in the Ganga has resulted in the equally high level of toxins in the fishes of the river.

``Beware of eating Ganga fish,'' is no longer just a cliche but a fact of life. While the fresh water fish might hold an attraction for all those who relish fish preparations and also the health conscious, one has to be cautious that it is not consumed for a prolonged period.

Rehu, Katla, Hilsa, Potha, Singhi, Mangur are just some of the varieties which are brought fresh from the Ganga and sold in different markets of the city. There are any number of people who would like to have only river fish and not the ones brought in from Andhra Pradesh and other places in the country.

Alarming facts came to light in course of the study and analysis of fish conducted by R.K. Sinha, senior investigator of the Ganga pollution monitoring project run by Patna University. Sinha, who is an expert on dolphins and has received many awards, says the study conducted on fish of different species showed the maximum concentration of DDT at Hardwar followed by Patna and Farakka. While at Hardwar, it was 3,700 nanogram per gram, in Patna it was 1,300 and at Farakka 1,100. Similarly, the concentration of almost all polychlorinated biphenyl congeners and organochlorine pesticides was much higher here than that at other places. While it was 270 nanogram per gram at Kanpur, it was 220 at Patna and 200 at Hardwar.

These chemicals, which are biologically non-degradable compounds, come into the river as agriculture and health drive run-offs and the concentration is much higher than the permissible limit. These get accumulated in the body and can lead to serious ailments like cancer or adversely affect the kidneys and brains of those who consume the river fish regularly, he warns.

Another important finding at Patna was that DDT found in the fish was 16,000 times more than that in water.

Surprisingly, while DDT, BHC, dieldrin and aldrin are banned all over the world, DDT is still officially used in India as a preventive measure against kala-azar and malaria. Even BHC and aldrin are available in the open market and are used quite extensively for agriculture purposes.

According to Sinha, the population of Ganga dolphins is only 4,000-5,000 and this too is declining rapidly. Ganga dolphins are threatened by rapid deterioration of the habitat, construction of dams, increased boat traffic and fishing. The contamination also affects the reproductive and immunological functions in the fish.

When contacted, physician and neurologist Gopal Prasad Sinha admitted that all these pesticides (DDT, aldrin) are extremely harmful and can lead to serious health problems if such contaminated fish is consumed for a prolonged period.

The Ganga, which earlier had the property of self-cleaning, is hardly a shadow of its former self. All types of urban waste and toxic substance like DDT and other chemicals and effluents from thousands of industries located along the course draining into the river have turned it into a huge ``nullah'' of filth.

The late Rajiv Gandhi's much touted Ganga Action Plan has little to show by way of actual improvement in the quality of water in spite of the expenditure of hundreds of crores of rupees.


Elephant lovers up in arms against Maneka's order

THE TIMES OF INDIA [March 12, 2001]

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Elephant lovers in Kerala are up in arms over the decision by Union Minister for Social Justice and Environment Maneka Gandhi directing the state government to take over ownership of all domestic elephants.

K C Panicker, a veteran elephant specialist, said Gandhi's decision to ask the state government to take control of all elephants is totally impractical. The order had come during the first week of February.

"The Kerala government, which owned around 100 elephants not long ago, has just under 20 elephants today. Isn't this enough indication that it is just not possible for the government to maintain these elephants," asked a worried Panicker.

Panicker, who is also the secretary of the Thrissur-based Elephants Welfare Association, a 250-member body of elephant lovers, added that a major problem is the behavior of the mahouts towards the elephants.

Mahouts of yesteryears were trained and they had a deep commitment towards these animals. But, today it is not the case. Most of the mahouts who are on duty today are amateurs and they have come for this job because they have no other jobs. Any new rules regarding this would be welcome.

State minister of forests C.K. Nanu has already gone on record saying Gandhi's demand is not feasible. But Nanu has welcomed the decision for opening orphanages in the state in all districts.'

"Setting up orphanages in all districts may not be that easy, but one in two districts is also good enough," said Panicker. Gandhi has also given directions for setting up elephant orphanages.

The Institute of Social Welfare in Ernakulam has approached the high court and filed a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking to end cruelty to these pachyderms.

They have urged in their petition that the state government take steps to consider enacting a law or amending existing rules for mahouts. They have also asked insurance companies not to compensate owners in case of death of elephants due to negligence by mahouts.

The present Elephant Protection Act was enacted way back in 1879. The Institute has also asked the court to intervene to amend these old laws.

K Unnikrishnan, a third generation elephant owner in Kollam, told IANS that even though the elephant business is no more a lucrative business, the latest decision by the union minister is just not feasible.

"Despite the financial liability of owning an elephant, I don't think any serious elephant owner would ever give away possession of this great animal. We are going to oppose this if they are enacting a law," said Unnikrishnan. Panicker, who also was at the forefront of setting up the first Elephant Study Centre in the private sector in Thrissur, said if the minister is really serious about doing something for the elephants then she should see that these animals have all the facilities needed, including good medical attention.

"Another area which requires serious attention is a proper method for burial for those elephants which die. In some places these elephants are either buried or burned on a pyre. Either way it costs more than Rs.30,000.

The owners, who are always short of money after expensive treatment, find it difficult to raise money for burial. A few months back, a dead elephant was buried after three days because of lack of funds. It would be really nice if the minister could do something on this count," said Panicker. (IANS)