July 8, 2021 3:46:49 am
The Congress government in Chhattisgarh is facing objections from its own legislators, including a minister, to its plan to further decrease the area of the proposed Lemru Elephant Reserve — to 450 sq km as against the previous plan to stretch it to 3,287 sq km from the current 1,995 sq km.
Health Minister T S Singh Deo and Dharamjaigarh MLA Laljeet Rathia have stood up in support of thousands of tribals demanding that coal mining in the jungles of Hasdeo Aranya be stopped. Days after the health minister wrote to Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel suggesting to invoke the UPA era “no go areas” policy for the forests, Rathia wrote to Baghel requesting to classify the catchment area of Mand and Hasdeo rivers as conserved.
On June 26, the department of forest and environment wrote to the state Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (wildlife) stating that Singh Deo and seven other MLAs had requested to limit the area of the proposed elephant reserve to 450 sq km.
However, Singh Deo objected to this letter and said he has always supported the decision to establish Lemru elephant reserve in a 1,995 sq km area. He said he only opposed the purported plan to further expand it to 3,287 sq km as it would result in 39 villages of his constituency being affected. “I later found out that the area of the reserve was proposed to be increased to 3,827.64 sq km, which was almost double of the figures in Cabinet discussions,” he wrote.
The “no go areas” policy that Singh Deo mentioned was proposed by the Ministry of Environment under the UPA regime in 2010. It was an initiative to classify coal blocks across the country and ensure that forested areas are not destroyed for mining. By suggesting the revival of the policy, Singh Deo has clarified his stand on the proposed coal block mining in the region.
Lemru elephant reserve, in the pipelines for the past 12 years, was notified under the erstwhile BJP government. The Congress government in its cabinet discussion in 2019 decided to increase the area of the reserve from 450 sq km to 1,995 sq km which was then purported to be increased to 3,287 sq km.
The state forest minister Mohammad Akbar, while speaking to the press, said, “There’s no contradiction. The Cabinet has the power to decide the area of the elephant reserve. The cabinet will take the decision on it.”
Environment activist and Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan convenor Alok Shukla alleged the government is trying to facilitate mining operations in the area by limiting the proposed elephant reserve. “Congress party, when it was in the opposition, was against mining in the Hasdeo forest. Now, when the villages have given their consent for the elephant reserve, the government is allowing land acquisition to happen,” he said.
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