By Rajeev Ranjan Roy, IANS,
New Delhi : A lone voice has emerged from the corridors of power to plead for the endangered Olive Ridley turtles in Orissa – seeking a ban on all missile tests from Chandipur during April and May every year.
Bhartruhari Mahtab, a member of the Lok Sabha from Cuttack, has raised the issue in the house and plans to take up the matter with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh if his concerns are not heeded promptly.
As a matter of urgent public importance, Mahtab raised the issue in the Lok Sabha last week. He is not willing to wait indefinitely.
“April and May are the crucial time for the turtles to nest, and any missile test would adversely affect the nesting process. The government should stop any missile tests during these two months,” Mahtab told IANS.
Mahtab has even sought advancing of the Agni missile test, scheduled for some time next week, from Chandipur.
“There is no nesting also in and around the Wheeler Islands from where the missiles are test-fired. The missile tests are having an adverse impact on the nesting of turtles,” Mahtab added.
Orissa is home to three mass nesting sites of the Olive Ridley turtles, namely Nasi Islands of the Gahirmatha beach in Kendrapada district, the Devi river mouth in Puri district and the Rushikulya river mouth.
“Nasi islands are near Wheeler Island and have the world’s largest nesting sites with over 700,000 turtles laying eggs on the beach every year. No mass nesting has been reported from Gahirmatha and Devi river mouth so far,” Mahtab added.
However, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has denied the test firing could have adversely affected the nesting of turtles and said it could be due to some other reasons.
“The missile testing takes place only after securing the concurrence of other agencies concerned. Shaded and inverted lights are used during the testing, which have no adverse impact on environment,” an official source in the DRDO told IANS.
“The test firing takes place during day time. It takes only two or three seconds for a missile to take off. Thus, the chances of nesting getting affected by the missile test are very remote,” the official added.
WWF India activists feel there is a need to look beyond the hype over missile testing as the reason. They feel there could be many other obvious reasons, including trawler nets, to disturb the nesting and hatching of turtles.
“The missile tests may or may not be the reason for the missing nesting in an area. Heavy activities or bright lights can be a deterrent, but it has not yet been scientifically established,” Michael Peters, state director, WWF-India, told IANS on phone from Bhubaneswar.
Peters said that the trawlers did not use the turtle excluder device (TED) while fishing and also violated with impunity the ban on fishing within a 20-km radius of the major breeding grounds.
“In Gahirmatha, Rushikulya, and Devi river mouths, the trawlers must have TEDs in the nets before licences are issued. Yet they do not use the device, driven by a misplaced fear of drastic reduction in fish catch,” added Peters.
As per an estimate of wildlife organisations, around 15,000 Olive Ridley turtles on an average get killed every year. About 90,000 turtles were estimated to have been killed in the past nine years.
Like tigers and elephants, the Olive Ridley turtle is protected under Schedule-I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Violation entails imprisonment for a term that may extend to three years or with fine, which may extend to Rs.25,000 or with both.
The coast of Orissa forms a highly complex yet dynamic eco-system comprising a myriad of wetlands, deltas, mangroves, and mudflats, making the coastline an ideal habitat for many species – fresh and brackish water terrapins, dolphins, porpoises, dugongs and the most vulnerable Olive Ridley sea turtles.
(Rajeev Ranjan Roy can be contacted at [email protected])