Trauma In Central India
August 2010: The Central Indian tiger landscape spans from Maharashtra to Madhya Pradesh across several Protected Areas (Kanha – Pench (Madhya Pradesh) – Pench (Maharashtra) – Satpuda – Nagzira – Tadoba-Andhari).
Misguided development is ravaging these tiger habitats and compromising the food and water security of millions who have placed their trust in a government that is allowing narrow-minded, short-term, commercial interests to chart a choppy future for our people. Sanctuary outlines the threats facing Central India’s tigers and urges readers to raise their voices against this destruction. We invite Sanctuary readers to send in information on projects that threaten habitats in their regions, which we will compile and send to the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
MINING PROJECTS IN THE CHINDWARA FOREST DIVISION
Several coal mines have been proposed in the forest corridor between the Bori-Satpura Tiger Reserve and Pench Tiger Reserve. A mining project by M/S Jaiprakash Associates Ltd. in northern Mandla falls in the Chindwara forest circle and is near several other mines in the area. The company’s plans will require 876.666 ha. land out of which 840 ha. is Reserve Forest land in the biodiverse Parasiya range. Another mining project in southern Mandla by the Madhya Pradesh State Mining Corporation Ltd. necessitates the denotification of 118.700 ha. of forest land of the Parasiya range in the West Chindwara forest division. The total land requirement is 210.807 ha. An underground coal mine of M/S Thesgora Coal Pvt. Ltd. is already located six kilometres from the proposed mine in southern Mandla. The presence of mines in such close proximity to each other will wreak havoc on the fragile ecosystem. But this is not all. Though the Jamunia underground coal mine proposed by M/S Western Coalfield Ltd. is on 59.302 ha of revenue land, its proximity to wildlife corridors in Parasiya is a serious concern. Corridors are vital for the survival of long-ranging species like the tiger. Allowing mining next to, or in corridors will isolate tiger populations and have a domino effect – increasing inbreeding and territorial disputes. The latter is particularly worrisome as lack of ample, inviolate space pushes tigers out of parks and into human settlements. Other mining projects in the region include the Dhankasa underground coal mine by M/S Western Coalfields Ltd. that requires some 355.716 ha. of land in the Parasiya Range of West Chindwara Division out of which 311.603 ha. is forest land. The Bhakra underground coal mine also by M/S Western Coalfields Ltd. falls in the Kanhan mining range but spills into the Damua forest range, compartment number 448 of the west Chindwara Forest Division.
The project site of the Sharda underground coal mine by M/S Western Coalfields Ltd. adjoins the Bhakra mining project and requires 9.5 ha. of forest land from the Jamai range of west Chindwara division.
The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has sent its team to inspect these locations and their verdict is awaited. Meanwhile, officials from the Pench and Bori-Satpura Tiger Reserves are working on declaring parts of the reserves inviolate by relocating villages from the core areas and the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department has started the vital work of notifying the buffer areas of these two reserves. However, all this good work will be undone in an instant if these projects are approved. They fall in critical corridors, the management of which is as important as working on individual parks. The said corridor is also the catchment area of the Pench-Kanhan valley riverine system and any development will alter the hydrology of the region. Instead of viewing these mines as economic opportunities, the various ministries involved should devote their time to developing conservation management plans for these areas that will engage locals thereby protecting wildlife and providing employment.
RAILWAYS AND HIGHWAYS
A criss-cross of railway lines already fragments one of India’s best tiger landscapes between the Kanha and Pench Tiger Reserves. Radio-collaring of tigers in this region has shown how they frequently move between the two parks. A railway line passing through this region is being upgraded with work on the stretch from Gondia to Balaghat and Nainpur to Jabalpur already completed. The route from Balaghat to Nainpur is next in line. This particular stretch of tracks passes through a dense forest corridor and the upgradation to broad gauge will consume 19.822 ha. of forest land. This stretch is also dangerously close to the buffer zone of Kanha, only 30 km. away and there can be no doubt that this project will severely impact wildlife in the area.
It has recently come to light that the railways will also lay a 25 kv. power line post the upgrade. This means that the speed of trains will increase as well as the frequency, increasing the number of accidents and severely impairing wildlife movement. The problem doesn’t end there – the railway line in question starts at Gondia and passes through the Tadoba landscape via Bramhapuri, Wadasa, Nawegaon and Nagzira. Jabalpur is the home of the Bahelia/Paradhi poaching gangs and is notorious poacher, Sansar Chand’s hub. Widening this railway will literally open up the parks to such elements.
The impact of the Godiya-Jabalpur railroad on Kanha’s cats will be exacerbated by the State Highway that runs parallel from Balaghat to Nainpur. This highway is frequented by hundreds of vehicles every day.
THERMAL PROJECT NEAR NAGZIRA
The Nagzira Wildlife Sanctuary is an important part of Maharashtra’s tiger landscape. Political apathy and vested interests are however, quickly leading to its downfall. The proposed phase-II of the 1980 MW coal-based thermal power plant at Tiroda by Adani Power Ltd. is only 8.5 km. away from Nagzira and requires 163.83 ha. of reserve forest. Nagzira is not only home to tigers; it is also a vital link between Pench, Kanha and Tadoba and even Indravati. The project will result in increased vehicular traffic, large amounts of fly ash will affect villagers as well as wildlife and will most certainly increase human-wildlife conflict by pushing tigers and other long-ranging species into using human settlements as travel routes to other parks once these corridors are lost.
The Wildlife Institute of India (WII) has already submitted a report recommending the expansion of the Nagzira Wildlife Sanctuary to 388 sq. km. by adding this surrounding forest area.
Conservationists and several organisations have also seconded the expansion of Nagzira and upgradation to national park status. The PCCF (Wildlife) of Maharashtra had requested the NTCA in May 2008 to declare the 131.553 sq. km. area of Navegaon N.P and 152.81 of Nagzira WLS as a ‘Critical Tiger Habitat’ and in a letter dated September 8, 2009, Jairam Ramesh asked the CM of Maharashtra to bring the area under Project Tiger.
DEGRADATION OF THE GREAT INDIAN BUSTARD SANCTUARY IN SOLAPUR
The Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary currently stretches across an area of 8,496. 44 sq. km. In recent times the sanctuary has been systematically degraded. A recommendation by a task force under Dr. M.K. Ranjitsinh recommended that the sanctuary be reduced to an extremely small area of 347.63 sq. km. Subsequently, the Supreme Court ordered another survey of the area and a committee headed by V.B. Sawarkar raised this to 1222.61 sq. km. The Rationalisation Committee eventually accepted the Sawarkar suggestion subject to the condition that other suitable areas such as Mansinghdeo (Nagpur), Rajmachi (Thane, Pune, Alibaug), Sudhagarh Tamni (Western Ghats), Tipagarh (Gadchiroli), Kopela (Gadchiroli) and Isapur Bird Sanctuary (Yawatmal) in the state be upgraded to sanctuary status.
A WII report suggests that at least five per cent of every state should be protected forest area. Maharashtra’s PA network stands at 15,332.49 sq. km. and this will drop to just 8,058.66 sq. km. In percentage terms, that would represent a drop from 4.97 per cent to 2.6 per cent! The Satpuda Foundation has petitioned both central and state governments to increase the total Protected Area network by including grassland and other ecologically fragile habitats in other parts of Maharashtra.
A proposal to widen the NH-9 was tabled at the same meeting involving the deletion of 328.52 ha. of the sanctuary. The Chief Wildlife Warden opined that since this area would be outside the demarcated 1,222.61 sq. km. allocated for the Sanctuary, the road be cleared.
NO SPACE FOR WILD BUFFALOES
The Satpuda Foundation and the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) worked with the Maharashtra government to survey the Kopela-Kolamarka landscape in the Gadchiroli district near the Indravati Tiger Reserve. This is the abode of the wild buffalo, a species that is in dire need of protection, and the team recommended that an area of 300 sq. km. to 500 sq. km. be allocated for this. Surprisingly, the standing committee of the State Board for Wildlife has erroneously recorded that only 90 sq. km area is required for this initiative, which is wholly inadequate. A healthy population of wild buffaloes cannot possibly survive in such a small area.
A proposal to denotify 11.931 sq. km. area from the Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary in Pune has been tabled to facilitate expansion work of the temple that exists within the park boundary. The state government has also asked that 14.12 ha. of the Radhanagari Sanctuary be denotified to make way for the Savarde minor irrigation project. Of this, 10.98 ha. will be submerged and 3.14 ha. is for the construction of the dam. It has been approved by the Chief Minister, Maharashtra, in the capacity of Chairman, State Board for Wildlife.
Fortunately, the Bhimashankar denotification proposal was rejected after a site inspection by Mahendra Vyas, Member, Rationalisation Committee. Dr. Asad Rehmani of the BNHS has now been asked to conduct a site visit of the Radhanagari Sanctuary. Sanctuary will continue to monitor the advice given by all experts and report back to its readers.
A network of irrigation projects poses severe threats for wildlife in Central India by destroying the contiguity of the landscape.
The Upper Wardha Irrigation Project has severed the Bor-Pench corridor leading to isolated populations of gaur in the Bor Wildlife Sanctuary.
The Gose-Khurd Irrigation Project (Bhandara-Nagpur district) has affected the Pench (Maharashtra) – Nagzira – Tadoba-Andhari corridor. The working plan of the forest area has reiterated the devastation and stated that “the DCF should take initiative in mitigating the fragmentation of the habitat. They should identify areas where passages can be constructed on these canals for the wild animals so that they can move freely.” Till date, however, no action has been taken. A team from the Satpuda Foundation has documented 12 gaur and two tigresses with two and three cubs respectively, trapped in Ranmangli/Karandala due to the canal.
The Bawanthdi dam (Rajiv Sagar Interstate Irrigation Project) in Nagpur has already affected wildlife in the Seoni-Balaghat and Bhandara district. This forest belt is a vital corridor between Pench and Kanha. The project has already destroyed 2,350 ha. of tiger forest and now its 100 km. canal is wrecking further damage. Monkeys have actually needed the Forest Department to provide them with a ladder to drink water from the canal and to help them climb back into the trees! A mitigation plan has asked that “three bridges, each at least 25 m. wide,” be constructed to help wildlife movement.
The corridor between Nagzira and the Navegaon National Park has been disturbed by the Itiadoh-Zasinagar-Nawegaon canal.
The Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve maintains a fragmented wildlife corridor with Navegaon through the Bramhapuri forest division. The area, already rife with human-animal conflict, has seen a sharp upswing in clashes as the Ghodazari canal network has severed the TATR-Brahmapuri corridor.
Unless, the ministries of power, surface transport, irrigation and coal are sensitised to wildlife conservation and learn to work with the environment ministry, they will continue to propose and approve ‘development’ projects that will systematically strip the biodiversity that the Indian people need as protection against the worst impacts of climate change. While India’s GDP may rise temporarily, because of such short-term plans, in the long-term, we will have ended up cutting the ‘ecological branch’ on which we collectively sit.