Sailana and Sardarpur: Florican Sanctuaries in Trouble

Sailana and Sardarpur: Florican Sanctuaries in Trouble

October 2001: The shrinking forest cover has predictably resulted in severe water scarcity for much of the year, and this year is no exception. Facing a famine, locals approached the forest department for employment under the Employment Guarantee Scheme. To their surprise and dismay, the work they were allotted turned out to be to cut and clear the very forest they depend on!

Lesser Florican - Ravi Sankaran

As soon as the people realised that they were expected to fell and 'trim' the source of their security, they refused the work. But the administration refuses to offer them any work other than this. As a result, the adivasi population of the Kalamgaon, Assa and Berista areas of Mokhada are being doubly victimised. Firstly, they are not being given their rightful due under government schemes. And secondly, workers from distant villages are being shipped in to cut down the forests that locals want saved.

The Lesser Florican Sypheotides indica is among the smallest bustards in the world and is endemic to the Indian subcontinent. Fewer than 1,000 of these birds survive today, making it one of the most endangered birds in the world. Its grassland habitat is under severe threat from changes in land-use patterns. In addition, the use of chemical insecticides and pesticides in and around their breeding habitats poses a long-term threat to the survival of the species.

As if these odds were not bad enough, the recent move by the Madhya Pradesh government to denotify two well-known Lesser Florican breeding habitats in the Vindhyachal hills, the Sailana and Sardarpur Sanctuaries will make things worse.

These areas were notified as sanctuaries on the recommendation of Dr. Sálim Ali, who had personally visited them in the early 1980s. The MP government aims to delete agricultural lands from the sanctuary area, which will mean the loss of much of the birds' feeding and breeding grounds.

Aside from these two protected areas, the MP government intends to rewrite the boundaries of a total of nine national parks and 25 sanctuaries. The Forest Minister Harvansh Singh has gone on record stating that there are proposals from all the national parks and sanctuaries to alter their boundaries and that these proposals are being considered.

Sailana and Sardarpur are among the last remaining breeding grounds for the Lesser Florican. Both the 12.94 sq. km. Sailana Florican Sanctuary in Ratlam district and the 348 sq. km. Sardarpur Sanctuary in Dhar district were notified in 1983. Floricans breed here annually from July to October.

In the Sardarpur Sanctuary, floricans feed on government grasslands, but prefer surrounding agricultural fields for nesting purposes. Hence the floricans of Sardarpur depend not only on the 568.44 ha. reserve forest area but also on the agricultural lands of 14 villages in the area. The sanctuary consists of only 628.44 ha. of forest land and 59 ha. of revenue land, the rest being private agricultural land. As these private lands are used by floricans for feeding and nesting, they had been incorporated in the sanctuary's original notification. Similarly, in the case of the Sailana Florican Sanctuary, three villages, Adwanya, Sailana and Gordhanpura cover almost the entire sanctuary area.

The floricans of Sardarpur and Sailana are beneficial to farmers as they feed on insect pests that prey on crops. These vast grasslands are also the source of a number of streams that later give birth to the Mahi river.

Sources say that the attempt to denotify private lands from the sanctuary was initiated after the Supreme Court decision regarding the settlement of rights in sanctuaries and national parks. However, under Section 24 of the Wildlife Protection Act, the Collector can allow the continuation of certain rights in or over any land within the limits of a sanctuary, in consultation with the Chief Wildlife Warden. Using this section, it is possible to maintain the Sardarpur Sanctuary area as it was notified earlier. Local people would be able to cultivate their lands as before and a written promise to protect the floricans can be taken from these farmers.

The Madhya Pradesh government has of late been at the forefront of moves to dilute wildlife and forest protection. Given MP's wildlife significance from a national perspective, this is extremely worrying.

Write a letter protesting the proposed denotification of MP's florican sanctuaries.


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