August 2012: A proposed plan for earthquake research in the core areas of the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve has both shocked and appalled conservationists across India.
The research in question refers to the study of intra-plate earthquake mechanisms and reservoir-triggered seismicity by the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI), Hyderabad under the Ministry of Earth Sciences. Following the impoundment of the Shivanjisagar Reservoir in 1962, the Koyna region has experienced thousands of tremors. The creation of another reservoir at Warna, 20 km. from Koyna, in 1993, further increased the Reservoir Triggered Seismicity. Project Leader and NGRI’s senior principal scientist Dr. Purnachandra Rao says this is the only area of its kind for such studies. However, the Koyna-Warna region under study falls in the core area of Sahyadri Tiger Reserve and the deep drilling project, which demands use of heavy machinery, blasting, and other activities, could seriously impact this tiger habitat.
The region has breeding tigers with cub sightings reported. The duration of this research may well extend up to 10 years, and the nature of the scientists’ activities at the site are inimical to the peace and quiet imperative for core critical tiger habitats. Honorary Wildlife Warden, Ajit Patel said: “The NGRI is seeking permission for using heavy machinery for drilling holes, use of aircraft, deployment of magnetic equipment, clearing trees and bushes at drilling sites, all of which can disturb the tiger habitat.”
No Environment Impact Assessment has been submitted. This is a legal requirement and without it all work, surveys and contracts issued must be rescinded. Jay Mazoomdar writes in Tehelka, “First we build dams and drown vast stretches of wilderness under reservoirs. But such artificial loads of water cause frequent, at times deadly, tremors. So next, we want to understand the quake dynamics by digging a few kilometres into the earth, threatening the remaining forests in the vicinity.”
The plot grows thicker. The NGRI proposal seeking permission from the Forest Department for site reconnaissance, referred to the forest as Chandoli National Park while it should have clearly mentioned that they will be working in the core zone of the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve. S.W.H. Naqvi, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), Maharashtra granted, permission for a reconnaissance to a 12-member team of scientists. He has now forwarded the letter of permission to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
The issue has been raised with Dr. Rajesh Gopal, Member Secretary, NTCA Member Secretary during his visit to the reserve on May 31, 2012. Sanctuary readers are urged to make their views known to him and others listed below. India’s newest tiger reserve and the first one declared by Maharashtra in the fragile Western Ghats landscape cannot be compromised even before its protection process has begun.
E-mail your views or write to
Principal Secretary, Forests
Mantralaya, Mumbai – 400032.
Dr. Rajesh Gopal
Member Secretary NTCA
National Tiger Conservation Authority,
Government of India,
Ministry of Environment and Forests,
Shahjahan Road, New Delhi – 110011.
Chief Wildlife Warden, Maharashtra
Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar Bhawan,
4th and 5th Floor, M.E.C.L. Building,
Seminary Hills and Campus, Nagpur – 440 001.
An MoU was signed on January 2011 with the German Research Centre for Geosciences on behalf of the International Continental Scientific Drilling Programme (ICDP) for an initial period of five years.
In March 2011, Minister for Earth Sciences Ashwani Kumar announced that efforts are underway to build a new scientific initiative, especially to understand the seismic activity of Koyna region in detail by drilling deep boreholes.
In March 2011, seventy experts attended a workshop at the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) on ‘Deep Scientific Drilling to Study Reservoir Triggered Earthquakes at Koyna’ to chalk out a project for studying the physical, geological and chemical processes and properties of this quake zone in real time. Funded by the Centre, the project involved drilling a seven-kilometre deep borehole and the cost was pegged between Rs. 200-Rs. 400 crore.
Some of the proposed drilling sites are inside the Chandoli National Park, which, along with the Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary, are part of the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve.
The study is a long-term one that could last for more than a decade and the damage in terms of dumping pits to bury sludge, aggressive chemicals used to clean materials brought up in drilling mud, etc. could be irreversible. Heavy machinery used, road construction, vehicular movement, need for water and electricity that will be transported via pipelines and power lines will all impact the habitat.
Published in Sanctuary Magazine Vol XXXII No. 4, August 2012