The entire breadth of the Chambal River in India has been declared as the National Chambal Sanctuary. The sandy banks of the Chambal River, as it flows with the Morena district of Madhya Pradesh on one side and Dholpur of Rajasthan on the other, form the breeding ground for the rare crocodilian gharial. The film "Last of the Gharial" was shot on location and scripted by Lalit Shastri in 2006 . It was produced for AssignmentEarth by Gary Strieker, the famous environmentalist and Executive Producer of This American Land.
Now 14 years later, things have improved by leaps and bounds.
In the last hatching season (June-July, 2019), more than 5,000 gharials were born at the National Chambal Sanctuary on the tri-junction of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
“In one range of the sanctuary, many eggs hatched and 4,141 gharials were born. In another range, 1,202 gharials took birth,” it was reported.
Apart from gharials, 400 mugger crocodiles (Crocodylus palustris) also hatched out of eggs in the two months at the sanctuary.
Lalit Shastri, the founder President of CREW and Principal Correspondent of India's leading newspaper "The Hindu", did an on the spot study of the factors threatening the endangered Gharial in the Chambal River.
Lalit Shastri's report published in The Hindu on 15 October 2006 with the title "Illegal sand mining threatens Gharial sanctuary" led to the total clamping of ban on sand mining in the Chambal river and the ban continues even today.
We are republishing the The Hindu report by Lalit Shastri, dated Sunday, Oct 15, 2006
A 15-km stretch of sandy bank under the Chambal bridge on National Highway 3 connecting Madhya Pradesh withRajasthan has remained an ideal breeding ground for the now endangered Gharial for millions of years, but now this endangered species that lays eggs in sand faces the threat of extinction due to biotic pressure and reckless illegal mining of sand.
Driving on NH-3 from Morena as one comes closer to the Chambal bridge one finds that vast agricultural fields on both sides of the highway have been converted into a dumping ground for sand to be transported by trucks to far-off places in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, besides catering to demand nearer home.
What comes as a major surprise here is that the picturesque Bhanpur Rest House overlooking the Chambal river has been taken over completely by the sand mining mafia and there goes on a never-ending movement of tractor trolleys to dump the illegally mined sand within the State Public Works Department-owned premises.
This is where the trucks get loaded with sand for transportation purposes. A brief halt on the Chambal bridge reveals the massive scale of illegal sand mining activity that goes on unchecked by the authorities on either side of the bridge. This area has been notified and falls within the National Chambal Sanctuary.
Madhya Pradesh Forest Minister Himmat Kothari had also admitted in the State Assembly earlier this year that illegal mining of sand had been continuing down the Chambal river. He had particularly emphasised that the survival of Gharial and other wildlife species that lay eggs in sand is greatly threatened by sand mining in the Protected Area. Mr. Kothari had told the House that on the one hand the State Government tries to curb the menace of illegal sand mining and on the other a large number of local residents, including labourers, traders and truck operators, continue to be involved in illegal mining activity.
Mr. Kothari had even suggested that "some area falling along the 435-km stretch of the Chambal river, which is important from the sand mining point of view and was not an ideal habitat for the endangered gharial, should be de-notified to reduce biotic pressure".
Taking a similar stand, the State Wildlife Board even recommended that a 10-km stretch of land near the Piprai mine be de-linked from the sanctuary with the Supreme Court's consent. A small patch of land along the riverbank on the Madhya Pradesh side has been notified as the Piprai sand mining area.
Forest Department officials told this correspondent that the mining contractors use their mining lease contracts to transport the sand mined illegally from the Protected Area. Forest Department Research Officer R. K. Sharma said that the Piprai area is ideal for Gharial breeding. A sandy island 5 km from the Chambal bridge and close to Piprai is also a perfect breeding ground.
When this correspondent went 15 km downstream to Tigri Rithora on Friday afternoon, there were some labourers illegally filling a tractor with sand. When the accompanying forest guards confronted these people, a large mob descended from a nearby mound and before anyone could be attacked this correspondent was forced to leave the spot in a speedboat anchored nearby.
Dr. Sharma later said that Tigri Rithora is one of the best breeding grounds for Gharial and every year they spot eight to 10 gharial nests around this place. When contacted, National Chambal Sanctuary Superintendent S. K. Katare said that breeding of Gharial in the natural environment is greatly threatened these days by illegal mining. The alarm bells had started ringing when the Gharial count stood at 451 in this territory in 1983-84. However, the Forest Department's Gharial breeding and releasing operation (which started at Devri in Morena district in 1981) helped in improving the situation and the number of Gharials rose to 1289 during the 1997-98 counting cycle.
Due to paucity of resources, gharial breeding and their counting was stopped between 1999 and 2003.
When the Gharials were counted again in 2003, their number had dropped to 514. The breeding activity was re-launched that year and during the last count done in February this year the number of Gharials had risen to 772. This clearly shows that the Chambal Sanctuary no longer remains the perfect habitat for the Gharial. If the Breeding Centre at Devri was not functioning, their numbers would only continue to decrease. (This was the ground situation14 years ago)
Madhya Pradesh was asked to stop illegal sand mining in Chambal Sanctuary in 2006 .
Immediately responding to The Hindu report by Lalit Shastri, the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) appointed by the Supreme Court asked the Madhya Pradesh Government to ensure that no sand mining is carried out in the National Chambal Sanctuary in violation of the apex court's orders.
CEC Member-Secretary M.K. Jiwrajka wrote to the then Madhya Pradesh chief secretary Rakesh Sahni raising the issue of illegal sand mining in the National Chambal Sanctuary and asked the State Government to comply with the Supreme Court's earlier order in this regard.
Enclosing a copy of the report that appeared in The Hindu on 15 October 2006, regarding illegal sand mining, Mr. Jiwrajka wrote to the Chief Secretary that the CEC had taken suo motu note of that report during a hearing on October 16.
The Conservator of Forests responsible for the Chambal area and the State Counsel were present during this hearing. The CEC observed: "Apparently the sand mining is being carried out in the Sanctuary area in violation of the Supreme Court' s order of 14 February 2000 in IA No. 548 W.P. (C) No. 202/95."
The Chief Secretary was also asked to get the matter enquired into immediately and send a detailed report.
Further Reference: Screening of "Gharial on the Verge of Extinction" and Public Lecture on the same subject organised by Toxics Link at India International Centre in New Delhi on 27 June 2008.
The speakers were: Lalit Shastri and Ravi Singh, SG & CEO, WWFINDIA. The discussion was moderated by Satish Sinha, Associate Director, Toxics Link.