By Bhushan Parimoo
Knowing well that the Mahseer is a protected fish species in India, as well as an endangered species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, it is all set to go extinct, thanks to J&K Administration's negligence and inaction.
In 1992, the National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources declared it an endangered species. According to the JK Government Website, “Mahseer, India's well-known commercial and sport fish, has been identified and listed as an endangered species throughout the country.” Across the country, efforts are being made to rehabilitate this well-known game fish. The worrying trend of its decline compelled the J&K state fisheries department to establish an exclusive Mahseer Hatchery at Anji stream flowing in (Dist. Reasi), where successful breeding programmes of this species have been carried out since 1999.”
It is a sad story that the Department of Fisheries has disposed of what Nature has bestowed upon the State with impunity and without redemption. Species prefer the shallow gravel stream beds where it breeds every year. Deserved to be treated as an awesome dream fish, with the utmost care to preserve and protect it as one of the state's proud aqua treasures.
Mahseer has been deliberately driven to the edge, slowly but steadily wiping it out of the state's waters. According to records, the government has never prioritised its revival.
The decline in the number of Mahseers in the state has been attributed to a variety of factors. Destruction of breeding grounds, vandalism of gravel zones or riffle sections, destruction of riparian vegetation, changes in tropic regimes and obstruction of fish passages have all had a negative impact on the population Mahseer.
As a result, one is forced to question the wisdom of those involved in failing to recognise that the river itself is a “living organism”: the blood that nourishes the earth. It is a vital resource not only for human life but also for fauna and flora along its entire route. River sediments brought down by the rainy season are a nutrient elixir for any river. Sand inter-beds within floodplain deposits act as aquifer systems, storing large amounts of groundwater and providing suitable substrates for a variety of benthic organisms. Excessive mining degrades rivers by lowering the stream bottom, affecting the adjoining groundwater system and the river's use by locals.
Despite these undeniable facts, which cannot be ignored at any cost, the administrative apparatus, instead of taking every precautionary measure to protect and preserve this precious stream, has been zealous in its efforts. They are allowed to be killed by the people engaged in the extraction of mining minor minerals from its river/stream bed, despite the fact that this will be detrimental to the Mahseer.
Anji Stream is unique in that it is the only place in Jammu Kashmir where Mahseer breeds naturally. The stream has a very pleasant atmosphere, with great limestone gravels that are ideal for breeding. Here female fish find a comfortable environment to lay thousands of eggs in the gravel for protection. And freely migrate over long distances to spawn in their preferred areas. The Anji stream, also known as the Khad falls in the Tawi catchment of the Chenab basin, and is the smallest micro watershed in the entire Indus basin.
This rarest of rare streams emerges from the Saroli Hills locally known as “Saroli Dhar.” It is located at the intersection of the districts of Reasi and Udhampur. It flows for 29 kilometres from east to west before joining the Chenab River near Baradari Reasi. It passes through several villages in Tehsil Bhamag and Reasi, including Ladda, Maniot, Kothari, Sukhal Ghati, Devi Ghar, Tote, Danga Kote, Harte Kote, Darabi, Kayala, Anji, and Seela Panassa. A number of brooks join with it en route which gives it the shape of a stream. Its slow and calm flow attracts the aforementioned organism for breeding. The surroundings have a moderate climate, which is very suitable and appropriate for fish breeding (particularly the Maha-Sher breed). Its eggs could be seen floating in shallow areas during the breeding season. The Anji stream takes shape at Garad Taatr_- Darabi, where the Railway Suspension Bridge Reasi was inaugurated. Garad Taar used to be one of the best breeding areas, but it has been destroyed by the Railways' merciless dumping of excavated debris. This is where Mahseer grew up to be 40 kg. According to locals, the stream once had more than a score of thriving big and small and deep breeding sites down below this site. All were tossed to the winds to vanish, leaving only memories to ponder. Since his school days in 1956, this writer has been watching the status and behaviour of the stream.
Anji, despite being the smallest stream, had carved out an envious niche for itself. The smallest breeding source in the Himalayan belt, with a meagre length of 29 square kilometres, and nearly 30 per cent area that once possessed breeding spots. Nonetheless, it used to compete with other breeding sites of the mighty Himalayan Rivers for the tastiest and largest Mahseer.
Unfortunately, the species has been subjected to mindless indulgence for the sake of self-preservation. Administrative death nails, driven deep and mercilessly, have almost vandalised these breeding spots, causing them to be lost forever. Heavy machinery has been used to extract unscientific and mindless gravel removal far and deep in the stream bed where breeding sites once existed in this masculine precious lone Mahseer breeding source.
The Department of Geology and Mining lacks data on the stream's hydrologic behaviour, seasonal sedimentation loads, and deposition at various points along its entire length. Greed has triumphed over the need to conduct a geo-ecological analysis of the stream, to consider scientific reasoning, and, most importantly, to consider ethics.
Decisions on where to mine, how much to mine, and how long to mine require a statutory environmental assessment, site-specific topographic, hydrologic, and hydraulic information, as well as river sedimentation behaviour. It is critical information for determining the number of minor minerals that can be removed from the area without causing undue erosion or degradation, either at the site or in a nearby upstream or downstream location. It is also known as Sand Budgeting, and it is not carried anywhere in the state on any river stream or other sources. Sediment is essential for the development of aquatic ecosystems because it replenishes nutrients and creates beneficial habitats and spawning areas. The Geology and Mining Department is more interested in extracting minor minerals from river beds. Leaving aside the primary purpose for which it was established. This necessitates a thorough geological survey and exploration. That is now a thing of the past. Even for minor mineral extractions, basic fundamentals are not taken into account. Unscientific mining has been a major contributor to the destruction of fish breeding grounds and the reduction of fish populations, causing some species to become extinct.
Vandalism is permitted in four locations for a period of five years, including Anji Khad downstream of Kiyala bridge Plan -V is one example. Anji Khad upstream Kayala Bridge Plan V, Anji Khad downstream Sula Park Bridge – VII, and Anji Khad downstream Sula Bridge.
With unrestricted ongoing vandalism of the breeding site and destruction of natural routes for seasonal movement up and downstream, spawning has been negatively impacted. The entire natural mode for the fish to breed and thrive has been disrupted, putting almost all fish species on the verge of extinction. There is no alternative source of Golden Mahseer breeding in nature other than borrowing spawns from other states.
A nexus between the Mafia and the caucus of the Departments, including Revenue, Mining, Police, Pollution Control Board, Forests, Irrigation and Flood Control, and Fisheries, function in a well-calibrated manner, with every part of it sufficiently oiled to run smoothly and quietly. That has been the primary cause of the destruction of fish breeding grounds, resulting in the extinction of species.
(The author is an environmentalist based in Jammu)