The findings of the Uttar Pradesh Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) in relation to the "mysterious" death of around 100 "gharials", a member of the crocodile family, from November 2007 to February 2008 in the National Chambal Sanctuary in Etawah district has added another twist in the tale.

In its report submitted to the State Forest and Wildlife Department, dated March 19, 2008, the agency has concluded that lead and cadmium were not found in the waters of the river Yamuna. The sanctuary is situated at the confluence of the Yamuna and the river Chambal, which flows from the neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, in Etawah district. The Pollution Control Board findings indicate that the death of the gharials could not have been due to toxicity.

Sources in the Forest Department are convinced that the agency had washed its hand off the controversy surrounding the death of the reptile. The Department is preparing to file a rejoinder to the Board's findings. In fact, the finding regarding the water quality of the Yamuna ran contrary to the conclusion drawn by the foreign experts, including Paolo Martelli from Hong Kong, F.W. Huchzermeyer from South Africa, and Brian Stacy from the U.S. who visited the Chambal Sanctuary in January-February following the death of the gharials.

"After conducting the post mortem examination of the carcasses they found that the deaths were on account of some toxin, which affected the kidneys and led to the deposition of uric acid causing gout. Further restriction in the movement of the gharials during the winters resulted in their death," said the Chief Wildlife Warden of U.P., D.N. Sinha Suman. He said since traces of cadmium and lead were found in the dead gharials, the services of the UP Pollution Control Board were sought to identify the toxins in the Yamuna water.

The issue has assumed a larger proportion with the Uttar Pradesh Government taking a serious view of the "mysterious" deaths. Last fortnight, the Forest Department sought the intervention of the Union Ministry of Environment and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). The UPPCB has been asked to keep a strict vigil on the release of effluents and direct the industries, situated along the course of the Yamuna, to install sewage treatment plants (STP). "The pollution level in the Yamuna in Delhi is known to all, besides the leather tanning and battery making units in Agra, which use lead, and the glass industry in Firozabad are situated along the course of the river till it reaches Etawah. As compared to the Yamuna, the Chambal is one of the cleanest rivers having no industry or major township on its banks," said Dr. Suman.