THE State Board for Wildlife in Maharashtra (SBWL) decided to declare ten new conservation reserves (CRs) on Friday along with a new sanctuary – Kanhargaon sanctuary (the state’s 50th) in Chandrapur district.
But the Board decided to make Mahendri in Amravati district a CR “as a first step” towards future sanctuary status with Chief Minister and Board chairman Uddhav Thackeray ordering the formation of a committee to begin dialogue with locals as part of the roadmap to its elevation to sanctuary status.
“The Board decided to establish 10 CRs at Mahendri, Amboli-Dodamarg (Sindhudurg), Jor-Jambhli (Satara), Muniya (Nagpur) and Chandgad, Panhalgad, Vishalgad, Gaganbawda, Mayni and Ajra-Bhudargad, all in Kolhapur district,” a source said.
The proposal to make Mahendri a CR was the subject of a long discussion with several Board members like activist Kishor Rithe and Poonam Dhanwate pitching for sanctuary status. Rithe argued that CR status makes little sense from the wildlife protection point-of-view as the 65-sq km reserved forest (RF) was an important wildlife corridor between Bor and Melghat tiger reserves. “Why not let it remain an RF then?” he asked.
“An RF can be directly notified as a sanctuary as there is no question of any grazing or firewood rights of people there. Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) authorises the Collector, not the Forest Department, to open dialogue with people for rehabilitation of villages included in the sanctuary,” Rithe said.
The Forest Department had submitted its own report that locals and people’s representatives are opposed to making Mahendri a sanctuary.
Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Nitin Kakodkar), who proposed the CR status, said, “CR brings in wildlife conservation to the area and also funding for it. Sanctuary status will lead to conflict with locals. The chief minister has also agreed to make it a CR saying locals residents’ opinion must be factored in before making it a sanctuary and directed setting up of a committee to visit the area and open dialogue with people.”
Activist and Board member Poonam Dhanwatey said, “Environment Minster Aaditya Thackeray said the government would follow the sanctuary proposal to reality in a time-bound manner.”
But Rithe said, “I will put up a dissent note as sanctuary status was kept in abeyence.”
The Board, however, agreed to make Kanhargaon, a 260-sq km forest in Chandrapur connecting the Tadoba landscape to Kawal sanctuary in Telangana, a sanctuary. It will be Maharashtra’s 50th sanctuary.
Another important decision was to prepare the zonal master plans for eco-sensitive zones of protected wildlife areas within three months. Board member and wildlife activist Bandu Dhotre had been raising the issue for some time now. “The chief minister directed that the plans be prepared within three months,” said Dhotre.
The plan deals with monitoring of development activities in Eco-Sensitive Zones and has to be prepared in an integrated manner by all government departments.
“On the issue of rising leopard casualties and human deaths in leopard attacks, it was decided to set up a committee that will visit the most vulnerable spots in both respects with a view to check the damage,” Kakodkar said.