Crucial tiger corridor in Maharashtra gets legal cover

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Mumbai:  It's a big victory for villagers and environmentalists alike, fighting to save Maharashtra's fragile forests that are part of the Western Ghats. The Bombay High court has ordered the state government to declare the Sawantwadi-Dodamarg belt in the Sindhudurg district bordering Goa, as an ecologically sensitive area (ESA).

The order comes on a public interest litigation filed in 2010 which cited that the region, a 38km x 10km stretch, had a rich forest cover and was an important wildlife corridor connecting the Radhanagari wildlife sanctuary in the north with Bhimgad sanctuary in the south. It added that highly endangered species like the tiger and leopard used the belt to move from one forest area to another. The government's own records shows the presence of 22 tigers in this belt.

The high court said that since there was concurrence between the Center and state government on the need to protect this corridor, a proposal should be formulated to declare this region as an ecologically-sensitive area. The court has also directed that the procedure be completed before the end of this year.

"I am thrilled with the High Court's decision. Our hard work and diligence has finally paid off," Sandeep Sawant, petitioner in the case told NDTV.

The declaration of ESA means no polluting industries can now come up in this region. There were a number of proposed mining leases, up to 30, that were in the pipeline, which will be impacted by this decision.

Reacting to the court directives, D Stalin of NGO Vanashakti, who spearheaded the legal battle said, "Wildlife gets its due. Natural resources like rivers, forests will be preserved for future generations. There will be a great opportunity to promote eco-tourism and green industries in the region. It is a victory of the people and this will be an example for the rest of India to follow."

Maharashtra is home to over a hundred tigers and an important state from the point of view of tiger conservation.

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