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Loss of Biological Diversity

Summary: The spread of irrigation into the SSP command is likely to have a serious deleterious effect on some species. Parts of the SSP command have natural habitats of extreme significance, including the Rann of Kutch with its unique flora and fauna. The large-scale disturbances due to canal construction, habitat changes caused by canal irrigation, and the agricultural expansion which will follow are likely to have severe negative consequences, specially on sensitive species such as the highly endangered Wild Ass.

Parts of the SSP command area have natural habitats of great national and global significance. For instance, Nal Sarovar Sanctuary near Ahmedabad is one of western India's largest wetlands, attracting over 120 migratory species of birds. The Dhrangadhra Sanctuary in the Little Rann of Kutch is a unique salt desert and wetland ecosystem not found anywhere else in the world, harbouring endemic and endangered species like the Wild ass ( Equus hemionus khur). The Velavadar National Park near Bhavnagar (Saurashtra) has perhaps India's largest concentrations of the threatened Blackbuck (Antelope cervicapra).

Project authorities have claimed that "copious amounts of fresh water" resulting from the project will benefit wildlife in the sanctuaries in the command area ( Raj 1989; Pathak 1989). Such blanket assertion display ecological illiteracy. All ecosystems develop in a particular regime of water availability and other climatic and geological conditions. Introduction of canal waters into and and semi-arid regions drastically changes the dry nature of the land, greatly increasing humidity and soil moisture, and transforming sparsely vegetated landscapes into relatively lush green ones.

To a lay person, this appears to be a change for the better. However, such a viem is based on a misunderstanding. Every type of natural habitat has its own composition of flora and fauna, and wildlife in and regions is uniquely adapted to living in dry, hot conditions. Put the same creatures into a tropical rainforest, and the humidity and dampness will kill them. It is an experience from all over the world that desert and and zone ("xeric") flora-fauna are driven out with the introduction of canal irrigation. In India this impact is beginning to be seen in the Indira Gandhi Nahar Pariyojana (IGNP) command area in Rajasthan, where the population of animals like the Desert fox (Vulpes vulpes pusilla), the Desert cat (Felis libyca ornata), the Caracal (Felis caracal), and the Indian gazelle or Chinkara (Gazella bennetti), and of plants like the nutritious sevan (Lasirius sindicus), are declining ( Prakash and Ghosh 1980; Prakash 1992).

Simultaneously, the changing environment makes it possible for creatures to enter and survive which would have previously not been found there. Consider birds which are found around human settlements: these are rarely seen in forests, but when the forest disappears, the sparrows and the crows proliferate. They displace and outcompete the original inhabitants. The newcomers are 'generalists', able to survive in a wide variety of habitats. Again, to a

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