Bhimgad awaits protection
June 2006: The Western Ghats forests contain some of the richest and most diverse ecosystems in the world. Protecting such forests should be the priority of any government.
Unfortunately, proposals to declare the Western Ghats rainforests of Bhimgad a wildlife sanctuary have been gathering dust with the Karnataka State Government for years. Even worse, the state government wants to sell the historical Bhimgad fort and adjacent private lands for mining.
Bhimgad covers the Khanapur taluka and Belgaum region in Karnataka, totalling an area of 55,000 ha. and shelters some of the most unique and ecologically-complex plant, animal and bird species. Bhimgad lies northwest of Goa’s Mollem and Mahadeyi Wildlife Sanctuaries and north of the Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary in Uttar Kannada. It thus forms two vital tiger corridors – one linking the Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary and Radhanagiri Wildlife Sanctuary in Maharashtra and the other linking Dandeli and the Molem Wildlife Sanctuary.
Bhimgad is probably best known for the Wroughton’s freetailed bat Otomops wroughtoni. The Barapede caves (between Krishnapur and Talevadi) are home to this rare and unique bat species, which is listed as a Schedule – I species and is critically endangered according to the IUCN Red Data List. The Krishnapur caves close by are one of only three places in the country where the little-known Theobalds tomb bat Taphozous theobaldi is found. The rare Megaderma spasma bats are found in the Talevadi caves. Little research has been done on the bat species or the cave systems in which they are found.
Large-scale illegal felling of trees is rampant. Mining and non-forestry activity including the plantation of exotic species is also widespread. In July 2003, Durgesh Kasbekar, who has been mobilising national and international support to have Bhimgad declared a wildlife sanctuary, filed an application before the Supreme Court’s Central Empowered Committee (CEC) emphasising the ecological importance of the area. Although the case was heard in January, April and July 2004, it remains at a standstill. There was no response from the Karnataka Chief Secretary, Principal Secretary (Forests, Environment and Ecology), Principal Chief Conservator of Forests or the Union of India. In 2004, large-scale tree felling, burning of forests and mining was discovered in the Belgaum area. In September 2004, the CEC questioned this unresponsiveness and asked for a report on the extent of illegal felling.
Efforts to protect Bhimgad are stalled, while the destruction continues. The ruins of the Bhimgad fort located in the Mahadeyi forest is of great historical significance. This was a Maratha bastion during Shivaji’s times. The fort is in a densely forested area rich in calcium deposits and is therefore attractive to mining companies. Private land owners have put up the fort and land for sale. If this is allowed, the historical and ecological wealth of this area will be destroyed forever.
Mining and felling will also destroy the catchment of the Mahadeyi river, which runs right through the heart of the proposed sanctuary. Various organisations of national and international reckoning such as the Bombay Natural History Society, Centre for Biodiversity Research of the University of British Columbia, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Biology of Royal Ontario Museum have written to both the Prime Minister and Chief Minister of Karnataka.
Please take a few minutes to understand and then lend your name to the Sanctuary campaign to ask the state government to reconsider the selling of this biodiversity-rich region of Bhimgad. Request the Karnataka Government to declare Bhimgad a wildlife sanctuary and protect this area for posterity. You can take the first step by writing a polite letter along the lines suggested and post it out. Take action. Spread the word.