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Project Dolphin: Minister pulls up officials over slow pace of work

UNION JAL Shakti Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat expressed his displeasure over the slow pace of the approval process for Project Dolphin at a meeting of the Empowered Task Force (ETF) on Ganga on Tuesday, The Indian Express has learnt. According to sources, Shekhawat said that although Prime Minister Narendra Modi has mentioned the project in many of his speeches, the ground situation has remained unchanged, with work yet to begin.

The ETF on Ganga, which met under Shekhawat’s chairmanship on Tuesday, is the second highest decision-making body on Ganga, after the National Ganga Council (NGC) headed by the Prime Minister.

During the meeting, when an official of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change gave a detailed progress report of the activities planned under Project Arth Ganga, Shekhawat is learnt to have asked him about Project Dolphin. According to sources, the official replied that a draft cabinet note had been prepared on Project Dolphin, and a detailed proposal would be ready soon. Shekhawat is then learnt to have remarked that the ministry needs to expedite the process of finalising Project Dolphin.

Project Dolphin is one of the activities planned under Arth Ganga, an ambitious inter-ministerial initiative of the government, which was approved at the first meeting of the NGC under the chairmanship of the PM on December 14, 2019. “Special conservation programme needs to be taken up for Gangetic Dolphin which is the national aquatic animal and also indicator species for the river Ganga spread over several states,” noted the minutes of the meeting, circulated on January 10, 2020.

Shekhawat is learnt to have told the official that they were still deliberating on the cost components of the project in March 2022, while the decision to start the programme was taken in December 2019. Sources said Shekhawat told the official that while India was talking about the bullet train, they were moving at the speed of a meter gauge train.

According to sources, the minister said that while the PM has mentioned the project in many of his speeches, the position on the ground is that work has not even begun.

The PM had even mentioned the project in his Independence Day speech in 2020. “We will focus on both types of dolphins living in the rivers and in the seas. This will also give a boost to biodiversity and also create employment opportunities,” he had said.

While phone calls and text messages to Shekhawat went unanswered, an official spokesperson of the Ministry of Jal Shakti said that Project Dolphin is being “handled” by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and they have “prepared” and “submitted” a Cabinet note.

Meanwhile, Shekhawat is also learnt to have expressed his unhappiness over senior officials of the Rural Development Ministry and Agriculture Ministry sending their subordinates for the meeting. He also asked about the progress of natural farming along the banks of Ganga.

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