The protective cover around the Kali Tiger Reserve has been severely reduced as the Karnataka government has bowed to “public pressure” to limit the extent of the eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) around the forest.
While the draft notification of the ESZ, issued on November 2016, listed 1,201.94 sq. km spread across three taluks of Uttara Kannada district, the submission to the expert committee on ESZ — formed by the Ministry of Environment and Forests — states that the ESZ should be limited to 312.52 sq. km. This is a reduction of nearly 75% of the protective area, which effectively acts as a buffer to forests by curtailing activities and constructions.
ESZs have been declared in 10 wildlife sanctuaries and reserves in the State, and none so far had seen a reduction in the buffer zones. However, ESZ declarations for the Bannerghatta National Park and Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, where political pressure and local objections are strong, are yet to be made.
At a meeting last month, State forest officials informed the committee that the reduction in the ESZ area was owing to “public demand and the Cabinet Sub-committee”(formed by the State government to look into the ESZs that encompass habitations.)
“The [ESZ] committee, after a detailed deliberation, recommended for finalisation of draft notification with above said changes,” notes the minutes of the meeting, which was held on July 7.
As the draft notification was issued, protests broke out at Joida, with numerous groups claiming that “development activities” will come to a halt. The ESZ committee notes that the objections centred around the inclusion of Joida taluk, where 96 villages would have been covered, from the ESZ area.
“We have only forwarded the decisions taken by the Cabinet Sub-committee. The point of concern was revenue enclosures within the forests. It is up to the Government of India to take our concerns and issue the final notification,” said P. Ravi Kumar, Additional Chief Secretary, Forest, Environment and Ecology.
Praveen Bhargav, trustee of the NGO Wildlife First, however, believes there is “no justification” for the drastic cut down in the ESZ area.
“Since ecological conditions have not changed from the time the draft notification was issued, the only reason appears to be political interference to accommodate vested interests, particularly when no acquisition of land or disruption of bona fide agricultural/rural livelihood activity of people is envisaged,” he said.
According to activists, this sounds the death knell for the eco-sensitive evergreen forests, where infrastructure pressures are peaking. The proposed Hubballi–Ankola railway line got the first stage clearance recently, allowing for nearly 1.73 lakh trees to be felled close to the Kali reserve; apart from this, work on widening and upgrading major roads that bifurcate the reserve is under way.
“The government might as well remove the tiger reserve tag for the forest as nothing seems to be done for its protection,” said an activist.
Kali Tiger Reserve
Anshi–Dandeli forests declared as Tiger Reserve in 2006
Area: 818.884 sq. km
Part of 8,800 sq. km contiguous forest range
Home to 272 bird species, including 19 endemic species
2014 Tiger Census estimated five tigers, with potential for more
Contentious ESZ boundaries
Draft notification ESZ area: 1,201.94 sq. km
Includes 137 sq. km of habitations
Range: 0 to 7 km from forest boundary
State government proposal: 312.52 sq. km.
Removes Joida taluk from notification
Range: 0 to 4.5 km from forest boundary
Infrastructure stress on the tiger reserve
Widening of NH4a (Belagavi to Panaji): 38,000 trees to be felled; including 1,700 in the tiger reserve
14 major roads pass through the reserve
State Highway 34 widened; 10 roads upgraded
Proposed Hubballi–Ankola line: 1.73 lakh trees to be cut
Doubling of Tinaighat–Castlerock line: 532 trees
Bridge proposals for Sakali Nala, Kundal in core area
Canopy walk, Canara Trail in reserve area