Maharashtra chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Water Resources Minister Jayant Patil struck a precautionary note at a meeting on Friday to discuss the proposed Human river irrigation project in Chandrapur and emphasised that the project must be implemented, but not at the cost of the district’s tiger population.
“Let me make it clear that my position in this matter is the same as that in the Aarey metro shed case. I am all for this project but it must not be done at the cost of tigers. Let’s not do this hastily,” said Thackeray, according to sources who attended the meeting.
The CM presided over the meeting with senior officials of the Forest and Water Resources departments, which was attended by some wildlife activists such as Kishor Rithe, Bandu Dhotre and Pradeep Apte.
First proposed in 1983, the Human project was put on hold following several reservations from the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and many wildlife activists. The main issue raised by conservationists and forest officials was that the dam, proposed to be built in the buffer zone of Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR), would destroy the wildlife corridor facilitating tiger movements across the whole landscape of Vidarbha. They argued that such a move would further intensify human-tiger conflicts in Chandrapur.
As per the orginal proposal, the project would have affected 1,925 hectares of forest area and entailed cutting over 1.50 lakh trees. The conservationists had also argued that in light of many other irrigation projects coming up in the district, the project on Human river wasn’t needed.
But the project is once again being pushed by former state forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, who hails from Chandrapur. Mungantiwar attended the meeting on Friday and pitched strongly for the project.
Activist Bandu Dhotre, who also attended the meeting, explained how the space for tigers was shrinking in the district and animals were being forced to live in areas near the Western Coalfireds Limited mines and Chandrapur Super Thermal Power Station.
During the meeting, officials of the Water Resources department were told to explore the alternatives suggested by NTCA, like moving the dam site 5 km upstream to reduce submergence area and keep the wildlife corridor unaffected. “They were told that they should explore shifting it a shorter distance, if not 5 km,” said a senior official.
“The CM gave the department a month’s time to respond to the idea,” he added.
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