THE state Forest Department is going to put up a Conservation Reserve (CR) proposal for a 65-sq km forest area in Amravati district, for which Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray had suggested a sanctuary status. The proposal will come up at the State Board for Wildlife (SBWL) meeting, to be chaired by Thackeray in Mumbai on Friday.
Mahendri forest, named after the only village inside it, is currently a reserve forest in Warud tahsil of Amravati district.
Wildlife activists have been rooting for sanctuary status for the forest since the forest is rich in wildlife including tigers, leopards and hyenas, and serves as a corridor between Bor Tiger Reserve in Wardha district and Melghat Tiger Reserve in Amravati district.
They have also accused the Forest Department’s Territorial division of “inciting” residents of villages around the forest to oppose the sanctuary to safeguard certain private quarries and their own commercial interests.
“We are proposing a Conservation Reserve for Mahendri since sanctuary status would affect the grazing dependence of villagers… on the forest and thus will letter create a conflict situation. It will also affect the… work of the Territorial division, which currently controls the forest…,” said Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) Nitin Kakodkar. “So, we have chosen the middle path. A CR would facilitate introduction of wildlife management in the area,” he added.
Kakodkar explained, “If a sanctuary is declared, no work or project can be undertaken in the area. In CR, at least government work can be undertaken, and any other project will need SBWL and National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) permission. It will also remain subject to the Forest Conservation Act. ”
“As a wildlife manager, I would be happy to have a sanctuary but I need to factor in other concerns too,” he said.
Kakodkar added, “There are many villages around the forest. If all of them can be rehabilitated, then a sanctuary can be a viable reality. But that will be a long haul and may take several years for convincing the people and marshalling huge financial resources. With CR, we can immediately start wildlife protection measures.”
Amravati honorary wildlife warden and a representative of NGO Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT), Vishal Bansod, however, disagreed. “The wildlife section must pitch for what’s best for wildlife. Grazing should be the concern of the Animal Husbandary department. In fact, the effort should be to stop it in the forest. And there will be enough forest left for grazing after declaring the sanctuary. At a time when stress must be on protecting corridors, a CR would come a cropper,” he said.
Saying the sanctuary proposal has been languishing for the last 20 years, Bansod accused the Territorial division of “inciting” people from 15-odd surrounding villages to oppose the sanctuary. “When we went to explain to them the benefits of a sanctuary, like tourism and employment generation, they said the forest officials have told them to oppose the idea,” he said.
He also alleged that a quarry in the vicinity will have to be closed for the sanctuary and there is pressure on the Forest Department in that regard as well.
Bansod and other activists had undertaken a signature campaign to press for the sanctuary demand. On Wednesday, they also organised a bicycle rally.
“The Forest officials had incited people to rally against it. We were alerted by police not to take a particular route where people had gathered,” he alleged.
But Amravati Chief Conservator of Forest Pravin Chavan refuted all allegations. “We have not incited anyone. We were asked to take people’s and their representatives’ opinions, which we collected and submitted to the department. People are opposed to the sanctuary idea. We have no vested interest in the matter,” he said.
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