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Property owners around Gir sanctuary move HC

Written By kom nampultig on Kamis, 26 Februari 2015 | 22.33

AHMEDABAD: Forty-eight of 66 land owners, who allegedly run resorts and hotels without permission in the restricted buffer zone of Gir sanctuary, have approached Gujarat high court after they were issued notice by the electricity company for their alleged use of electric supply for commercial purposes.

The authorities woke up after the HC directed the government to take action against the illegally operated hospitality units in the 2km zone from the abode of Asiatic lions. On February 10, the state government submitted a report furnishing names of 128 establishments that are running hotels and resorts and have put up illegal construction. The HC had asked to hear these parties before initiating any action against them.

The owners of these properties moved the HC after receiving the notices seeking clarification on the commercial use of electricity. They have claimed that they are agriculturists and use power for farming purpose, and therefore the electricity company should not cut the power connection.

A bench headed by Justice Jayant Patel said that if they are farmers and use electricity for agriculture purpose, there is no reason for them to worry. The question is only for those who use electricity for commercial activity, including hospitality industry, which is prohibited in this area. The commercial activity is spreading across three districts - Amreli, Junagadh and Gir-Somnath.

The HC directions came during the proceedings of a PIL filed suo motu about the government's proposal of a new eco-tourism zone in the south of Gir wildlife sanctuary. The government has assured that the tourism activities would not affect the wildlife and the footfalls of tourists during day time would not choke the lions' corridor.

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There has been delay in setting up of special tiger protection force by the states: Government

NEW DELHI: The Government on Thursday said there has been a delay in setting up of special tiger protection force (STPF) by the states and they are being constantly reminded in this regard.

Environment minister Prakash Javadekar also termed tiger conservation in the country a "success" and said the recent assessment of status of tigers in 2014 has shown a countrywide of 30 per cent increase of tiger numbers which has reached an estimated 2,226.

"Based on the recommendation of the tiger task force, it was initially decided that the STPF would be deployed in 13 sensitive tiger reserves of the country having considerable source population of tigers.

"Against a total of 47 tiger reserves at present and 13 sensitive tiger reserves, STPF has been raised, armed and deployed in four tiger reserves namely Bandipur (Karnataka), Tadoba-Andhari and Pench (Maharashtra) and Similipal (Odisha)," Javadekar said in a written reply in Rajya Sabha.

STPF is a dedicated force for protecting wildlife and mitigating human-animal conflict.

He said that the 13 reserves were Ranthambore (Rajasthan), Dudhwa (UP), Corbett (Uttarakhand), Bandipur (Karnataka), Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Pench ((MP), Tadoba-Andhari and Pench (Maharashtra), Similipal (Odisha), Kaziranga (Assam), Pakke (Arunachal Pradesh) and Mudumalai (TN).

"The concerned states have been reminded constantly in this regard and in-principle approval has been accorded for raising, arming and deploying STPF in Nawegaon-Nagzira and Melghat (Maharashtra), Kawal and Amrabad — erstwhile Nagarjunasagar Srisailam Tiger reserve portion (Telangana) tiger reserves," he said.

The minister said assessment of status of tigers, co-predetors and their prey in 2014 using refined methodology has shown a countrywide 30 per cent increase in the number of tigers with an estimated number of 2226 (range 1945-2491) as compared to 2010 estimation (1706 total — range 1520-1909) tigers.

He said the notified core or critical tiger habitat and buffer zones of the tiger reserves constitute 68,676.47sqkm spread over in 18 states which is 2.06 per cent of the country's geographical area where the tiger population is well within the carrying capacity and can hold the current population.

Javadekar said the government through Project Tiger and National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has taken a number of initiatives for protection and conservation of wildlife including tiger and includes increase of forest area under effective protection.

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Government seeks ties with European nations on hazardous waste management

Written By kom nampultig on Rabu, 25 Februari 2015 | 22.33

NEW DELHI: While India was "cleaner than other countries" in term of climate change impact at this stage of economy, there is concern over hazardous waste management and the country was looking for cooperation from European countries in the area.

"Our co-processing of hazardous waste is not even 1 per cent. And, there is a tremendous scope of co-operation with the European countries," additional secretary, ministry of environment, Susheel Kumar said.

He was speaking at the '7th EU-India Environment Forum' here, themed on role played by resources efficiency and the circular economy in meeting environmental challenges.

"Our growth so far has been cleaner than other countries at this stage of economy, in terms of climate change impact and not the pollution aspect.

"If you see growth and pollution linkage ... we have traditionally a sustainable lifestyle, and our emission per unit of GDP (gross domestic product) is much lower than any other country at this stage of economy," he said.

Pitching for suitable legislative framework and institutional efficiency at all levels of the government and other stakeholders, Kumar said, work was on to get a suitable business model of cooperation between India and the European countries, but there was a need to expedite it.

"... there is a tremendous scope of co-operation with the European countries... There is a project also going on and we had asked to prepare bushiness model to take it forward..." he said.

Opening the Forum, Ambassador and Head of Delegation of the European Union to India, Joao Cravinho, said India and the EU together could move towards a more sustainable growth model.

"It's a new government in India... new authorities in Brussels (EU headquarters)... This is the best possible moment... to compare and how each can contribute to the other," he said.

"We need to look how we can make markets for secondary raw material work better and how we can create business models that are more resource efficient... How we can encourage design, durability, repairability, recyclability to provide predictability and clarity for investor and business," he said.

Kumar also proposed to take the Indian environmental legislative framework on board the discussion during the Forum and sought "concrete outcomes" at the end of it.

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Volkswagen reduces impact of manufacturing process to the environment by 25% per car globally

BENGALURU: Volkswagen Pune Plant, one of the 27 Volkswagen automotive manufacturing facilities worldwide, follows the 'Think Blue Factory' initiative to achieve environment-friendly manufacturing. Through this initiative, Volkswagen aims at reducing the impact of its manufacturing process on the environment by 25% per car globally through its participating facilities. While the programme was adopted by Volkswagen globally in 2011, Volkswagen Pune Plant has been working towards the goals since 2012. The impact on environment through manufacturing processes is measured across five key areas of 'Energy Consumption', 'CO2 Emissions', 'Water Consumption', 'Waste Generation' and 'VOC Emissions'.

Starting from 2012, Volkswagen Pune Plant has undertaken a number of projects in the direction of environment-friendly manufacturing and successfully implemented them to record remarkable results. Three years into the programme, the plant has already surpassed the set target in the area of 'Waste Generation' and is close to achieving its targets in the areas of 'CO2 Emissions' and 'Energy Consumption'. Rounding off the fruitful results of Volkswagen India was the consistent progress shown in the area of 'Water Consumption'.

'Waste Generation': Target achieved and surpassed!

Amongst the five key measurable areas, maximum reduction has been achieved in the area of 'Waste Generation'. As compared to the base value of 2011, the Volkswagen Pune Plant has been able to reduce specific 'Waste Generation' by 30.5% (8.1 kg/car in 2011 reduced to 5.63 kg/car at the end of 2014). The main measure contributing to this achievement was the recycling of paint sludge. This reduction was achieved by cutting down the moisture content from paint sludge through centrifuge and further recycling the paint sludge to produce primer as a by-product.

'CO2 Emissions' & 'Energy Consumption': Success around the corner!

Volkswagen Pune Plant has closed in on the targets of two more key areas of 'CO2 Emissions' and 'Energy Consumption' by the end of 2014. With specific reduction of 21.2% and 20.6% in specific values respectively, the targets are around the corner and will be achieved well within the defined timeframe of 2018. Maximum saving in 'Energy Consumption' and hence also in 'CO2 Emissions' has come through the optimisation of operation of 'Air Supply Unit' in the Paint Shop where huge reduction in CNG consumption has been achieved. The annual saving through this translates to approximately 2,943 MWh/a out of the total 3,741 MWh/a saving. The other projects contributing to this total saving include optimisation of operation of utility equipment, installation of 'High Speed, Low Volume' (HSLV) fans, optimisation of lighting equipment and optimisation of ventilation. The positive side of all the activities undertaken at the plant is that none of the activities have hampered the working conditions for the employees. In fact, activities like installation of HSLV fans has improved the working conditions on the shop floor.

'Water Consumption': Inspiring results recorded

A reduction of 14.4% has been achieved by Volkswagen Pune Plant in the area of specific 'Water Consumption'. The major contributors to this saving are through modifications made at the shower test area in Assembly and optimising the process PDI car wash. Adding to these is the saving achieved through activities undertaken in 2013 that have yielded results on a longer term in 2014.

'VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) emissions' : The way forward

The fifth defined area under 'Think Blue. Factory.' initiative is that of 'VOC Emissions' which are mainly derived from the Paint Shop. Various measures are being studied for reducing 'VOC Emissions' and the best practices will be implemented in the coming years.

Mr. Andreas Lauenroth, Executive Director - Technical, Volkswagen India Private Limited, and Head of Volkswagen Plant in Chakan said satisfied with the latest results, "At Volkswagen Pune Plant, 'Think Blue. Factory.' has become a part of our lifestyle. Within three years of adopting the programme, we have achieved a 17.3% reduction per car in the impact of manufacturing processes on the environment. We are well on track to accomplish our set target by 2018 to lower the environmental impact of our production processes." He further added, "At Volkswagen, we have a commitment towards environment just like we have towards engineering, innovation, quality and safety. We will continue striving hard towards this and not only reach our goals but will go on to surpass them."

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Factories discharging effluents into Yamuna asked to shift

Written By kom nampultig on Selasa, 24 Februari 2015 | 22.34

MATHURA: As many as 67 small factories in the city who are discharging effluents directly into the Yamuna have been asked to shift from their current location by end of next month.

"Sixty-seven small factories which are discharging hazardous acids have been asked to shift by March 31. They can either shift to an industrial area or to a place of their choice," ADM and Nodal Officer of Yamuna action plan Dhirendra Sachan said.

A meeting in this regard was held yesterday which was attended by district authorities, Uttar Pradesh Pollution control Board (UPPCB) officials and representatives of factories.

Factories which will not shift within the given time would be sealed, he said.

According to the ADM, factories running without permission from UPPCB are being enlisted as stern action would also be taken against them.

For safety and security of the plants in industrial area, a police outpost may be set up in the area, he said.

The ADM has asked people to submit list of unauthorised factories and said that the identity of persons providing information will not be disclosed.

During the meeting, secretary of factories association Harish Garg expressed his inability to shift the factories outside the city area owing to security constraints.

He also said that effluent of the factories is discharged after treating it.

Assistant Engineer UPPCB S R Maurya said that in the present scenario it was difficult to make surprise checks in these factories as they are being run from their homes.

A PIL in this regard has been filed by one Gopeshwar Nath Chaturvedi in the Allahabad High Court and the case is pending.

Nath alleged since Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) in these factories are not running, acid mixed chemical jeopardises STP of Municipal Board.

"It finally reduces DO level of Yamuna causing death of water animals as natural purifying system also fails," he said.

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UNEP to evaluate UCIL cleanup, compensation

BHOPAL: After a nod from union government, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) would undertake evaluation of the spread of toxic waste in and around the abandoned Union Carbide factory in Bhopal.

Union government has asked for 15 days to deliberate over the offer, initiated by Bhopal Group of Information and Action (BGIA) and its global supporters.

Referring to UNEP offer BGIA, an ngo working for gas victims held a press conference here on Tuesday.

"It would be a comprehensive assessment of the 3.5km area, that continues to effect inhabitants in some 22 colonies," said BGIA representative Rachna Dhingra.

NGO activists said they met union minister for environment, forests and climate change and apprised him of the UNEP offer on Saturday. Javadekar has asked for 15 days to respond.

"Union government has nothing to loose by this evaluation. We have no objection if government agencies are a part of the initiative," she added.

Approximately 16 studies evaluating the toxic waste contamination and effects on population have taken place since 1999.

"Earlier studies have not been comprehensive to assess the damage, in its true sense," said Dhingra.

Activists said they hope Dow Chemicals, which took over Union Carbide in 2001, will be made to pay for cleanup.

Leak from the union carbide in 1984 led to the worlds worst industrial disaster in Bhopal killing hundred and injuring thousands.

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Another 450 Climate Reality Leaders to be trained on climate change

Written By kom nampultig on Senin, 23 Februari 2015 | 22.33

NEW DELHI: High-profile leaders in renewable energy are joining Nobel laureate and former US vice-president Al Gore here to train another 450 Climate Reality Leaders on the science of climate change and solutions for the climate crisis while developing skills to effectively communicate about both the challenges and opportunities, the Climate Reality Project announced on Monday.

The February 22-24 event marks the 27th Climate Reality Leadership Corps training, and will focus on India's renewable energy potential, as well as the key role the country plays in the lead up to the highly anticipated COP 21 climate negotiations in Paris at the end of the year.

World-class experts will speak on a variety of topics relevant to India and climate change, including its effects on the country, opportunities for renewable solutions, and how grassroots engagement can benefit people across India.

The speakers include Ken Berlin, president & CEO, Climate Reality Project; Sanjit Bunker Roy, founder, Barefoot College; Ajay Mathur, director general, Bureau of Energy Efficiency and Angela Rutter, director of strategic engagement, Australian Conservation Foundation.

"There are many reasons to be optimistic about our ability to solve the climate crisis," said Gore, chairman and founder of the Climate Reality Project.

"The Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in New Delhi, which will bring together committed activists and citizens from all over India and from several others nations, gives me yet another reason to be hopeful. After completing this training, these leaders will be empowered with the best tools possible to communicate this message of hope to their own communities," he added.

Kamal Meattle, trustee, the Climate Reality Project, India spoke about the implications of climate change for India and apprised the climate leaders about the current situation in the country.

"India is an important country when it comes to climate action, as it is already experiencing negative effects of climate change, including extreme rainfall, flooding and significant changes to agricultural patterns without the infrastructure to easily adapt. While the country has a low per-capita historical responsibility for emissions, India also has the opportunity to pursue an inclusive and sustainable development pathway, to secure a healthy, safe and prosperous future for its citizens and the world," a Climate Reality Project statement said.

Thus far, the Climate Reality Project has trained over 7,000 Climate Reality Leaders from more than 100 countries, including recent trainings held in Istanbul, Chicago, Johannesburg, Melbourne and Rio de Janeiro.

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Bengal mulls two-way approach to stop rhino-poaching

KOLKATA: Alarmed by frequent incidents of rhino poaching in north Bengal, the West Bengal government has decided to adopt a two-pronged approach to deal with the menace.

First, the government intends to create a seven-member body with members drawn from the Sashastra Seema Bal, Border Security Force, CID and West Bengal Forest Department to keep an eye on rhino-poaching and involve local people in the exercise.

In view of the gravity of the situation, the West Bengal Wildlife Board had suggested that forest guards be issued "shoot-at-sight" orders to save the animals, but the government preferred not to take that extreme step.

"We are not in favour of the shoot-at-sight policy. We have full faith in the local inhabitants there and we are trying to involve them in our bid to save our rhinos," West Bengal Forest Minister Binay Krishna Barman told PTI.

The minister said that the seven-member body would include representatives from the state Forest Department and commandant-level officers from the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), the Border Security Force (BSF) and the CID.

"They will share information with each other on a daily basis," he said.

At least six rhinos were killed by suspected poachers in the Jaldapara National Park in the past eight months. Jaldapara happens to be the second largest habitat of one-horned rhinos in India after the Kaziranga National Park in Assam.

Asked what kept the state government from emulating the example of Assam in issuing "shoot-at-sight" orders to keep poachers at bay, the minister said, "Shoot-to-kill should be adopted as the last measure and in self-defence. It's better to educate people and raise their awareness about the need to conserve rhinos," the minister explained.

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Indian river, protected by a curse, faces the modern world

Written By kom nampultig on Minggu, 22 Februari 2015 | 22.33

BHAREH, INDIA: For many centuries, it was a curse that saved the river.

It was a series of curses, actually, a centuries-long string of unrelenting bad news in this rugged, hidden corner of northern India's industrial belt. There was an actual curse at first, a longheld belief that the Chambal River was unholy. There was the land itself, and the more earthly curse of its poor-quality soil. And above all there were the bandits, hiding in the badlands and causing countless eruptions of violence and fear.

But instead of destroying the river, these things protected it by keeping the outside world away. The isolation created a sanctuary.

It is a place of crocodiles and jackals, of river dolphins and the occasional wolf. Hundreds of species of birds _ storks, geese, babblers, larks, falcons and so many more _ nest along the river. Endangered birds lay small speckled eggs in tiny pits they dig in the sandbars. Gharials, rare crocodile-like creatures that look like they swaggered out of the Mesozoic Era, are commonplace here and nowhere else.

Today, tucked in a hidden corner of what is now a deeply polluted region, where the stench of industrial fumes fills the air in dozens of towns and tons of raw sewage is dumped every day into many rivers, the Chambal has remained essentially wild.

But if bad news saved the river, good news now threatens to destroy it. The modern world, it turns out, may be the most dangerous curse of all.

Sages and bandits

The fears that shaped this region go back more than a thousand years, to when sages said the Chambal (the term refers both to the river and the rugged land around it) had been cursed and villagers whispered that it was unholy. In a culture where rivers have long been worshipped, farmers avoided planting along the river's banks.

``People always said things were different in this area,'' says a laborer working along the Chambal River on a hot afternoon. He is thin, with the ropy toughness and the distrust of outsiders so common here. He gives only his first name, Gopal. ``People,'' he says, ``were afraid to come.''

A few centuries later the bandits arrived, men who hid in the maze of riverside ravines and kept outsiders away for generations.

They were the last true protectors of the Chambal, it turns out.

For hundreds of years, the outlaws ruled the labyrinth of scrub-filled ravines and tiny villages along the river. Spread across thousands of square miles, the Chambal badlands is a place where a dirt path can reveal a tangle of narrow valleys with 100-foot-high walls, and where a bandit gang could easily disappear.

The bandits' power _ rooted in caste divisions, isolation and widespread poverty _ was enormous. Countless governments, from Moghul lords to British viceroys to Indian prime ministers, vowed to humble them. Countless governments failed.

As India modernized _ as British rule gave way to independence, and a modern nation began to take shape _ the Chambal remained a place apart, a feared region where politicians seemed more like criminals and where, in most villages, bandits were the true power.

``We were so isolated for so long,'' says Hemrudra Singh, a soft-spoken aristocrat with a crumbling family fort overlooking the Chambal River from the village of Bhareh. He understands that isolation well. Until 10 years ago, Bhareh could only be reached by boat during the monsoon season.

Only in the late 1990s did life in the Chambal begin to change significantly. Ancient dirt paths became paved roads, prying open villages that had been isolated for centuries.

The bandits' local political patrons were driven from power. Their foot soldiers were killed in shootouts with police, and their hideouts were forced deeper into the ravines by the spread of new roads. The last famed bandit, Nirbhay Gujjar, was killed by police in 2005.

Today, cellphone towers and motorcycle dealers and satellite TVs are everywhere. New businesses and new schools have opened, ushered in by years of Indian economic growth. Farmers struggling with the poor soil now have fertilizers and tractors.

In so many ways, that has been good news. Poverty remains widespread across the Chambal, but there are more roads now to get crops to market, and mobile phones to call the doctor when someone gets sick. Unemployment remains rampant, but there are occasional new jobs.

With the good, though, came troubles that threaten the Chambal and its wildlife: polluting factories, illegal sand mining and fish poachers who hack at gharials with axes when the animals get tangled in their nets. As India's population and economy grows, more people are moving closer to the river.

Suddenly, the Chambal was no longer synonymous with lawlessness. Instead, it meant cheap land and untapped resources. Quickly, people began to come.

And almost as quickly, the problems began.

The new curse

The garbage multiplied. So did construction projects near the river and, with them, industrial pollutants. Torn plastic bags now sometimes blow through the ravines, and small stone quarries dump refuse into creeks that feed the Chambal.

In 2007 and 2008, more than 100 dead gharials washed up on riverbanks _ perhaps 25 percent of the world's wild gharials at the time. While scientists have never been able to pinpoint the cause, and the population has grown back to a degree, most experts believe pollution introduced a toxin into the river.

``In the old days, there weren't many people here to interfere with the river,'' said Dr. Rajiv Chauhan, a scientist and Chambal River expert with the India-based Society for Conservation of Nature. ``But with the bandits gone, the pressure on the river is now just too much.''

In theory, the wildest parts of the river are protected. A narrow 250-mile stretch of the Chambal was declared an official sanctuary in the late 1970s, closing it to everyone but longtime villagers, approved scientists and the handful of tourists who make it here.

But India's wildlife agencies are woefully undertrained and underfunded. Forestry officials often need to borrow boats to patrol the river. Banditry may have faded, but corruption is rampant: Locals who illegally cut firewood in the sanctuary pass forestry department checkpoints without challenge.

More factories are being built upstream from the sanctuary, and their pollutants are leaking into the river. Increased farming has caused a spike in dangerous fertilizer and pesticide runoff, scientists say. Billions of gallons of water are siphoned away for irrigation.

The most immediate worry is illegal sand mining, which can strip away thousands of tons of riverbank on a single day, causing immense amounts of silt to spill into the river, upsetting its delicate ecology.

Demand for sand has soared across India in recent years as the economy has grown, leaving an emerging middle class clamoring for housing. Since most new Indian housing is made of concrete, and concrete requires sand, the surge in building has given rise to a sprawling network of black-market sand dealers. The ``sand mafia,'' as the Indian media calls it, has no qualms plundering the easy pickings along a wild riverbank.

Take a boat along the Chambal River on nearly any day, and the mafia's power quickly becomes clear.

Not far from the village of Bhopepura, dozens of tractors regularly snake down a dirt road to the river, pulling trailers filled with wiry, shovel-wielding men who hop down once they reach the riverbank. These are the sand mafia's labor force, men who can earn $15 for a long, exhausting day of work. That is good pay around here.

The mining is illegal, but the laborers say their bosses have paid off local officials. While none of the miners will give their full names, they also make no effort to hide what they're doing. The mining area, perhaps 30 acres in total, can be easily seen from both banks of the river. While the men work, tractors rigged with loudspeakers blare Bollywood songs.

There's a calm beauty to the scene. Local villagers pass by, leading camels that leave footprints the size of dinner plates in the soft sand. When the breeze picks up, the camel bells clang.

But people like Singh, the aristocrat, worry of tomorrow. Asked if he is optimistic about the area's future, Singh simply looks at the floor and shakes his head.

The laborers, poor men who spend most of the year working on tiny farms, are concerned with making extra money, not with wildlife. And that is the biggest curse that the Chambal faces today: The path of progress, sometimes, leaves little room for anything else.

``What is a sanctuary?'' says Gopal, the river laborer, his voice dripping with disdain. ``What is a mammal? What is a bird? I don't have time to worry about these things.''

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Chambal river, protected by a curse, faces the modern world

BHAREH, INDIA: For many centuries, it was a curse that saved the river.

It was a series of curses, actually, a centuries-long string of unrelenting bad news in this rugged, hidden corner of northern India's industrial belt. There was an actual curse at first, a longheld belief that the Chambal river was unholy. There was the land itself, and the more earthly curse of its poor-quality soil. And above all there were the bandits, hiding in the badlands and causing countless eruptions of violence and fear.

But instead of destroying the river, these things protected it by keeping the outside world away. The isolation created a sanctuary.

It is a place of crocodiles and jackals, of river dolphins and the occasional wolf. Hundreds of species of birds — storks, geese, babblers, larks, falcons and so many more — nest along the river. Endangered birds lay small speckled eggs in tiny pits they dig in the sandbars. Gharials, rare crocodile-like creatures that look like they swaggered out of the Mesozoic Era, are commonplace here and nowhere else.

Today, tucked in a hidden corner of what is now a deeply polluted region, where the stench of industrial fumes fills the air in dozens of towns and tons of raw sewage is dumped every day into many rivers, the Chambal has remained essentially wild.

But if bad news saved the river, good news now threatens to destroy it. The modern world, it turns out, may be the most dangerous curse of all.

Sages and bandits

The fears that shaped this region go back more than a thousand years, to when sages said the Chambal (the term refers both to the river and the rugged land around it) had been cursed and villagers whispered that it was unholy. In a culture where rivers have long been worshipped, farmers avoided planting along the river's banks.

"People always said things were different in this area," says a laborer working along the Chambal River on a hot afternoon. He is thin, with the ropy toughness and the distrust of outsiders so common here. He gives only his first name, Gopal. "People," he says, "were afraid to come."

A few centuries later the bandits arrived, men who hid in the maze of riverside ravines and kept outsiders away for generations.

They were the last true protectors of the Chambal, it turns out.

For hundreds of years, the outlaws ruled the labyrinth of scrub-filled ravines and tiny villages along the river. Spread across thousands of square miles, the Chambal badlands is a place where a dirt path can reveal a tangle of narrow valleys with 100-foot-high walls, and where a bandit gang could easily disappear.

The bandits' power — rooted in caste divisions, isolation and widespread poverty — was enormous. Countless governments, from Moghul lords to British viceroys to Indian prime ministers, vowed to humble them. Countless governments failed.

As India modernized — as British rule gave way to independence, and a modern nation began to take shape — the Chambal remained a place apart, a feared region where politicians seemed more like criminals and where, in most villages, bandits were the true power.

"We were so isolated for so long," says Hemrudra Singh, a soft-spoken aristocrat with a crumbling family fort overlooking the Chambal River from the village of Bhareh. He understands that isolation well. Until 10 years ago, Bhareh could only be reached by boat during the monsoon season.

Only in the late 1990s did life in the Chambal begin to change significantly. Ancient dirt paths became paved roads, prying open villages that had been isolated for centuries.

The bandits' local political patrons were driven from power. Their foot soldiers were killed in shootouts with police, and their hideouts were forced deeper into the ravines by the spread of new roads. The last famed bandit, Nirbhay Gujjar, was killed by police in 2005.

Today, cellphone towers and motorcycle dealers and satellite TVs are everywhere. New businesses and new schools have opened, ushered in by years of Indian economic growth. Farmers struggling with the poor soil now have fertilizers and tractors.

In so many ways, that has been good news. Poverty remains widespread across the Chambal, but there are more roads now to get crops to market, and mobile phones to call the doctor when someone gets sick. Unemployment remains rampant, but there are occasional new jobs.

With the good, though, came troubles that threaten the Chambal and its wildlife: polluting factories, illegal sand mining and fish poachers who hack at gharials with axes when the animals get tangled in their nets. As India's population and economy grows, more people are moving closer to the river.

Suddenly, the Chambal was no longer synonymous with lawlessness. Instead, it meant cheap land and untapped resources. Quickly, people began to come.

And almost as quickly, the problems began.

The new curse

The garbage multiplied. So did construction projects near the river and, with them, industrial pollutants. Torn plastic bags now sometimes blow through the ravines, and small stone quarries dump refuse into creeks that feed the Chambal.

In 2007 and 2008, more than 100 dead gharials washed up on riverbanks — perhaps 25 percent of the world's wild gharials at the time. While scientists have never been able to pinpoint the cause, and the population has grown back to a degree, most experts believe pollution introduced a toxin into the river.

"In the old days, there weren't many people here to interfere with the river," said Dr. Rajiv Chauhan, a scientist and Chambal River expert with the India-based Society for Conservation of Nature. "But with the bandits gone, the pressure on the river is now just too much."

In theory, the wildest parts of the river are protected. A narrow 250-mile stretch of the Chambal was declared an official sanctuary in the late 1970s, closing it to everyone but longtime villagers, approved scientists and the handful of tourists who make it here.

But India's wildlife agencies are woefully undertrained and underfunded. Forestry officials often need to borrow boats to patrol the river. Banditry may have faded, but corruption is rampant: Locals who illegally cut firewood in the sanctuary pass forestry department checkpoints without challenge.

More factories are being built upstream from the sanctuary, and their pollutants are leaking into the river. Increased farming has caused a spike in dangerous fertilizer and pesticide runoff, scientists say. Billions of gallons of water are siphoned away for irrigation.

The most immediate worry is illegal sand mining, which can strip away thousands of tons of riverbank on a single day, causing immense amounts of silt to spill into the river, upsetting its delicate ecology.

Demand for sand has soared across India in recent years as the economy has grown, leaving an emerging middle class clamoring for housing. Since most new Indian housing is made of concrete, and concrete requires sand, the surge in building has given rise to a sprawling network of black-market sand dealers. The "sand mafia," as the Indian media calls it, has no qualms plundering the easy pickings along a wild riverbank.

Take a boat along the Chambal River on nearly any day, and the mafia's power quickly becomes clear.

Not far from the village of Bhopepura, dozens of tractors regularly snake down a dirt road to the river, pulling trailers filled with wiry, shovel-wielding men who hop down once they reach the riverbank. These are the sand mafia's labor force, men who can earn $15 for a long, exhausting day of work. That is good pay around here.

The mining is illegal, but the laborers say their bosses have paid off local officials. While none of the miners will give their full names, they also make no effort to hide what they're doing. The mining area, perhaps 30 acres in total, can be easily seen from both banks of the river. While the men work, tractors rigged with loudspeakers blare Bollywood songs.

There's a calm beauty to the scene. Local villagers pass by, leading camels that leave footprints the size of dinner plates in the soft sand. When the breeze picks up, the camel bells clang.

But people like Singh, the aristocrat, worry of tomorrow. Asked if he is optimistic about the area's future, Singh simply looks at the floor and shakes his head.

The laborers, poor men who spend most of the year working on tiny farms, are concerned with making extra money, not with wildlife. And that is the biggest curse that the Chambal faces today: The path of progress, sometimes, leaves little room for anything else.

"What is a sanctuary?" says Gopal, the river laborer, his voice dripping with disdain. "What is a mammal? What is a bird? I don't have time to worry about these things."

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