Devil and deep sea
Bihar's fisherfolk are facing a strange predicament. Their new threat is the Vikramshila Sanctuary - covering 50 kilometres of the river from Sultanganj to Kehalgaon. The Bihar government notified it as a sanctuary in 1991 to conserve the Gangetic Dolphins. Pollution, dams and overfishing have severely affected the population of dolphins in the river and there are only a few hundreds left. The Bihar government has banned all fishing activities in the sanctuary area, but illegal fishing by rich contractors and the fish mafia continues. Moreover, the government has done nothing to stop the pollution of the river.
"Banning fishing will not save the dolphin," says Sunil K Chaudhary, professor at T M Bagalpur University, Bihar. The sanctuary came about when rampant killings of the dolphins were reported. "The local fisherfolk sometimes kill them for the oil," says Chaudhary. He heads a group called Vikramshila Biodiversity Research and Education Centre (VBREC) that works for generating awareness among fisherfolk on the conservation of dolphins.
Even now, poor fisherfolk are arrested when they go fishing. Fisherfolk from Kahalgaon, however, say they are the ones who can save the dolphin. "We need fish to survive and so do the dolphins. If our demands are met and illegal fishing is banned in the river, the dolphins will survive and so will we," says Phekia Devi, a resident of Kagjitola and an active member of the Ganga Mukti Andolan, which led a campaign to free rivers from the control of contractors and the mafia. The VBREC is trying to motivate fisherfolk on the need to save the dolphin. It now remains to be seen whether the government will allow traditional fisherfolk to go into the river.