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Singbhum Elephant Reserve Threatened By Mines

Singbhum Elephant Reserve Threatened By Mines

The Steel Authority of India Limited and Arcelor Mittal could be responsible for harming wild elephants in the very core of the Singbhum Elephant Reserve in Jharkhand. This is a pristine elephant habitat and future generations will wonder at our foolhardiness in allowing such devastation. YOU can help staunch the damage. You MUST help stop this national folly.

About the Campaign:

Singhbhum, the first elephant reserve in the country, an impressive 13,440 sq. km. in extent, was established in 2001 by Project Elephant. The idea was to protect a viable population of elephants in Jharkhand and enable the ecological restoration of their natural habitats and migratory routes.

On January 17, 2014, a Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) under the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) gave the Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) approval to mine iron and subsequently, the MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) cleared an Arcelor Mittal iron ore project “subject to obtaining forestry and wildlife clearances.”

A huge chunk, 635.986 ha. of forest land, has been diverted for SAIL’s Durgaiburu iron ore mine in the Saranda forest division, and 202.35 ha. Has been gifted to Arcelor Mittal in the Karampada Forest Reserve. Both projects are in the core area of the Singhbhum Elephant Reserve, the best of its kind in Jharkhand.

As though to save face, the FAC had initially cleared the transfer of only 274 ha. for the  Durgaiburu iron oremine, making diversion of the rest conditional on approval of a wildlife management plan. Even this was too much for Dr. Manmohan Singh’s Cabinet Committee on Investments, which instructed a pliable MoEF not to link the approval with the management plan in April 2013. In comes Veerappa Moily.

As the MoEF minister, he instantly obliged Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma and removed the conservation plan rider. Any moment now Arcelor Mittal’s 1.6 million tonne iron ore project will be cleared in the same fashion. SAIL’s demand is for more forest land so they can increase the mining capacity to 10 million tonnes per annum.

The Singhbhum Elephant Reserve is spread over three districts in the southeastern part of Jharkhand. Here other species such as Indian giant squirrels, sloth bears, barking deer and reptiles also cling to life. Saranda connects with the adjoining forests of Odisha, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh and was a vital tiger habitat until the 1980s with more than a dozen tigers inhabiting this landscape. The landscape nevertheless still links with Palamau Tiger Reserve to the northwest through the Simdega corridor, and Similipal to the southeast through the Bangriposi Ghat corridor. Despite heavy mining, tigers were reported here three times (1990, 2004 and 2011). As pointed out by Raza Kazmi on page 24, with adequate protection the prey-base would rebuild and tigers would return.

Conservationists are preparing a writ petition, but since Project Elephant has intentionally not been given legal status by shortsighted politicians, it would appear that public opinion and petitioning the Green Bench of the Supreme Court might yield more productive results.

Mining causes fragmentation. Fragmentation leads to conflict and local extinction. Iron ore also renders river and lake water poisonous.  And if all this were not bad enough, the sound of trucks and blasting scares elephants.

Saranda’s tribal communities have also been opposing the mining. In 2011, the government’s feeble (failed) anti-insurgency strategy hit upon a good way to have their cake and eat it too (of course leaving the elephants out of the party) by sharing mining income with tribal communities. Even as accusations are rife about some tribal activists making a killing while the iron ore lasts, the damage continues apace.

Between 1951 and 1991, more than 34 per cent of land acquired for development projects was for mining. This displaced an astounding seven per cent of Jharkhand’s total human population, almost half of them tribals.

But there are still undisturbed forests in Saranda. Protecting these patches will allow biodiversity to recolonise the damaged areas, but it will take the force of public opinion to make this happen. Sanctuary Asia readers have always risen to the occasion. Please write and demand that this pristine habitat is protected and that human rights violationsare prevented.

Elephants from Singhbhum are forced to migrate to Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha thus increasing man-elephant conflict. Photo: Rajarshi Banerji.

Action/Involvement:

Send your concerns to the following officials. You could make the following points:

1. Reject all iron ore mining leases in the core area of the Singhbhum Elephant Reserve and ask that SAIL and Arcellor Mittal be removed from the area.

2. This will benefit both tribals and elephants and reduce man–animal conflict.

3. This will help sequester carbon and mitigate the impact of both floods and drought, thus adding far more to the economy than iron ore mining in a rich biodiversity area can possibly deliver.

Shri Dr. Manmohan Singh,
Prime Minister of India,

South Block, Raisina Hills, New Delhi – 110011.
Tel.: +91 11 23012312

Shri Hemant Soren,
Chief Minister of Jharkhand,

1st Floor, Project Building, Ranchi,
Jharkhand – 834004.
Tel.: +91 651 2281400, 2281500

Shri A. K. Malhotra,
Principal Chief Conservator of Forests,

Department of Forest and Environment,
Van Bhawan, Doranda, Ranchi,
Jharkhand – 834002.
Tel.: +91 651 2481744

First appeared in Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXXV No. 2, April 2014.

 
 
 

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