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Indian rivers since time bygone have always held an aura of mysticism and have been associated with the Hindu religion in one way or another. This aura of religious piety still continues and has given India a very special place in the world. Primarily, most of the major towns are situated on the banks of a river or water source and this is the reason why the major rivers have so much of organic pressure and pollution embedded in them. Industrialization and population increase have been quite merciless on these rivers and invariably, pollution in these rivers have gone up many-folds. The river Ganga is the most pious river of India, but, is not bereft of its share of pollution; in fact, the pollution level in the Ganga is much higher in comparison to the other rivers in India.

The Ganga originates in Uttaranchal and flows through Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. Approximately 25 major cities and towns are situated on the banks of the Ganga all along its route from Uttaranchal to West Bengal. Around 75% of pollutants in the Ganga are from the sewage disposal and the industrial wastes and effluents of these major cities. To curb such influx of pollutants and save the Ganga from further deterioration, Ganga Action Plan was started in 1986 with the support of the Central Government. Under this plan, to curb the disposal of the sewage waste in to the river, sewage treatment plants were established in all major cities and disposal points. At the same time, counter checks and controls were put in force to abate industrial waste and pollutants / effluents from being disposed off directly in the river.

According to a mention in the religious scriptures of the Hindus, it is believed that if a person dies in the holy city of Kashi [Varanasi] or his funeral rites are performed at Kashi, the person will have access to the Heavens and will be free from the cycle of birth and rebirth. In pursuance to this belief people from far and near bring their dead to the city of Varanasi for performing the last rites at the numerous Ghats on the bank of the river Ganga. Burnt and half burnt corpses are immersed in the river and are a major reason for the increased pollution levels along with waste-garbage dumping in the Ganga. With this in mind, the Ganga Action Plan supported the organic removal of dead bodies by supporting the breeding and release of turtles in the river waters.. The basic idea to set up this project was to curb the dwindling Turtle population which is on the verge of extinction and also by releasing carnivorous turtles, that would feed on the remains of the corpses and would help in reducing the organic and harmful wastes emanating from the corpses and also in the process, providing for food to the diminishing population of turtles and help them survive, grow and breed and increase their number. Under the Turtle Rehabilitation Plan, turtle breeding centers were set up in Sarnath [Varanasi] and Kukrail Forest [Lucknow].

At the Sarnath centre, the eggs of the carnivorous specie of turtles [the “Kathawa” – Aspadiritis Gangetic-] were brought from the Chambal river –and the new-borns were brought up at the breeding centre under controlled conditions. Once they reached the right age they were released in the waters of the Ganga River.

According to a mention in the religious scriptures of the Hindus, it is believed that if a person dies in the holy city of Kashi [Varanasi] or his funeral rites are performed at Kashi, the person will have access to the Heavens and will be free from the cycle of birth and rebirth. In pursuance to this belief people from far and near bring their dead to the city of Varanasi for performing the last rites at the numerous Ghats on the bank of the river Ganga. Burnt and half burnt corpses are immersed in the river and are a major reason for the increased pollution levels along with waste-garbage dumping in the Ganga. With this in mind, the Ganga Action Plan supported the organic removal of dead bodies by supporting the breeding and release of turtles in the river waters.. The basic idea to set up this project was to curb the dwindling Turtle population which is on the verge of extinction and also by releasing carnivorous turtles, that would feed on the remains of the corpses and would help in reducing the organic and harmful wastes emanating from the corpses and also in the process, providing for food to the diminishing population of turtles and help them survive, grow and breed and increase their number. Under the Turtle Rehabilitation Plan, turtle breeding centers were set up in Sarnath [Varanasi] and Kukrail Forest [Lucknow].

At the Sarnath centre, the eggs of the carnivorous specie of turtles [the “Kathawa” – Aspadiritis Gangetic-] were brought from the Chambal river –and the new-borns were brought up at the breeding centre under controlled conditions. Once they reached the right age they were released in the wa

Establishment of Turtle Wild Life Sanctuary:-

To safeguard the released turtles and their natural habitat in the Ganga River, under the U.P.State Administration Forests Act ,section – 3 ,part-4170/14-3-62,dated 21-12-1989,the area of the mid section of the Ganga River ,flowing through Varanasi city and measuring around 7 kms has been declared as the Turtle Wild Life Sanctuary under which, the area between Ramnagar Fort to Malviya Rail/Road Bridge [Raj Ghat Bridge] has been declared as the Turtle Wild Life Sanctuary, Varanasi. Along with the turtles, other species of aquatic animals which inhabit this area are also being provided complete protection.

Legendary Importance of the Area:-

On the left bank of the Turtle Wild Life Sanctuary is the city of Varanasi. A city which has its origin and mention in the Holy Scriptures of Hindu religion, is said, that Lord Shiva had established Varanasi on his Trident. Varanasi is also known as Shivnagri on the basis of this legend. It is believed that breathing his last in this city paves way for access to the heavens and the person also gets freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth. It is also believed that that the Holy Scripture, the “Ramcharitra Manas” by Goswami Tulsidas was penned on the Ghats of Varanasi and Lord Shiva had praised it as the holiest of Holy Scriptures of the Hindus. On the right banks of the River Ganga, the fort of the erstwhile Kashi Naresh [Maharaja of Varanasi] sits in all its glory. Such legends have given Varanasi a place of special importance in the world. Sarnath, in Varanasi is also a major Buddhist spot: this is the very spot where sitting under a Banyan Tree, Lord Buddha gave his first sermon. A Buddhist Stupa and Buddhist Temple are also situated in Sarnath. Archeologically and by Buddhist faith and beliefs, Sarnath is a very important centre, which people visit, from far and near. The Turtle Breeding Centre, Sarnath is situated near the “Bodhi Sthal” at Sarnath.

Species of Turtles:-

Out of the 230 species of turtles found world-wide, 33 species are found in India in different regions. In Uttar Pradesh ,13 species are found out of which 4 species are predominant viz –Spadiritis Gangetic, Geoclamis Hamiltonian , Chitr Indica and Lacimus Specie [soft shell turtles],which are carnivorous. Under the Turtle Wild Life Sanctuary, Spadiritis Gangetic, carnivorous specie has been taken up for breeding and conservation.

Wild Animals of the Region:-

Amphibians : soft shell turtles, Carnivorous species of turtles like Aspadiritis Gangetic are found. In the herbivorous variety, Hart Sal is found. Fishes like Rohu, Tegra and Bhakur etc are in abundance. The Gangetic Dolphin is also found in the sanctuary.