With bauxite mining operations breathing down its neck and the possibility of a deep drilling project, Maharashtra’s Sahyadri Tiger Reserve is under threat

While the Maharashtra government says it is the first in the country to notify core and buffer areas in all its four tiger reserves in the State, in a recent affidavit to the Supreme Court naturalists have pointed out that the tiger habitats are under pressure from poaching and bauxite mining. They are also concerned about a deep drilling project to study seismicity in the Koyna region falling in the core area of the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve (STR).

The STR, notified in 2010, is beset by bauxite mining within one km of the boundary of the Chandoli National Park in Kolhapur district which forms part of the reserve, in violation of existing norms. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) gave environmental clearance for two mines in December 2006. One of them is located on 254.52 hectares of private land with a capacity of 60,000 tonnes per annum (tpa).The other mine was permitted to extract 3.37 lakh tpa and mine lease area was 776.78 hectares — 586.76 hectares of which was forest land.

In the clearance letter to both the companies, namely M/S Prakash Anandrao Gaikwad and Swati Minerals, it was stated that the Chandoli National Park is located at a distance of 10 km from the mine just outside the buffer zone.

However, Nana Khamkhar and Rohan Bhate of Creative Nature Friends told The Hindu that the issue was taken up with the Centrally Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court, saying that the two bauxite mines were located within one km of the park and the MoEF’s environmental clearance was based on incorrect facts. Mr. Khamkhar said there was a Supreme Court order of 2006 which clearly says mining was not permissible within one km of the boundary of national parks. The National Board for Wildlife has to clear proposals for mining within 10 km of national parks.

The other concern for wildlife conservationists is the proposal for deep drilling in the Warna reservoir, which is part of the core area of the STR. Located in Chandoli National Park, this area is acknowledged by the Forest Department to be a breeding area for tigers and cubs have been sighted here, Mr Khamkhar said.

Dr. Purnachandra Rao, senior principal scientist from the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) under the Ministry of Earth Sciences, however, said, “The proposal for the deep drilling project will take us right to the spot where earthquakes are happening. Drilling will have to be done for six to seven km and the 10-year study could help answer a lot of questions remaining on earthquakes.” The Koyna region experienced a massive quake in 1967. The proposal will study intraplate earthquake mechanism in the region which is prone to tremors. There is a two-fold interest for the NGRI since there are two reservoirs — Warna and Koyna — in the vicinity, Dr. Rao said

This was an internationally important programme spearheaded by the NGRI which had approached the Maharashtra Forest Department two months ago. “We are sensitive to issues and there is no cause for panic,” Dr. Rao added. 

Principal Secretary (Forests), Praveen Pardeshi, said that the bauxite mines were given permission before the restriction of the 10 km limit came into being. They had the required clearances, he said.

However, Assistant Conservator of Forests, Chandoli National Park, Sitaram Zure said that after complaints of mining, the Forest Department had informed the MoEF in February about the permission for two mines being given on false information that they were located 10 km away from the National Park boundary. Mr. Zure said the National Tiger Conservation Authority had also examined the matter and sent a report. He said that notices have been issued to the two companies by the Mining Department.

Regarding the deep drilling project, Mr. Pardeshi said the proposal was to drill in the Warna reservoir, which fell in the core area of the STR. The NGRI had only sent a letter, there was no formal proposal as yet and it would be first considered by the State Wildlife Board before approval by the National Board for Wildlife. He was of the opinion that the study should be permitted in the interest of science.

Mr. Bhate opposed the study saying it would require new roads and places to stay in the reserve and the noise levels due to drilling would be very high.  

The four tiger reserves in Maharashtra are Melghat Tiger Reserve in Amravati district, Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in Chandrapur district, Pench Tiger Reserve in Nagpur district and Sahyadri Tiger Reserve spread over Ratnagiri, Sangli, Satara and Kolhapur districts. The State government approved the inclusion of Chandoli National Park and the Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary to the Sahyadri in 2010 to create a tiger reserve spread over 741.22 sq km. Later, the STR’s area was expanded to 1165.56 sq km by providing 424.34 sq km as additional buffer area, in the interest of tiger conservation.

Melghat is the oldest of them, having been declared a tiger reserve in 1974. The Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve was notified in 1995, Pench in 1999 and Sahyadri Tiger Reserve in 2010.