Sindhudurg, Maharashtra: Are plans being laid for mining in Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra at the cost of tigers? Located in the fragile Western Ghats, forests in Sindhudurg are crucial wildlife corridors that connect the Anshi-Dandeli Tiger Reserve in the south with the Sahyadri Tiger Project in the north. But they could be completely destroyed since a large chunk of this area comes under proposed mines.
Forest department records show the movement of five tigers and at least 40 leopards, both highly endangered species, in the forests of Sindhudurg. Yet the mention of these highly-endangered big cats, that are fast losing their habitat, finds no mention in the environment impact assessment reports, better known as EIAs, on the area. These reports are used as the basis for getting clearances. Currently there are 49 mines under consideration, awaiting government approval. These reports are prepared by expert consultants who are paid huge sums by the mining companies to prepare these reports. But activists allege that most often EIA reports are nothing more than a sham, a cut-paste job from other reports, often prepared without any project site visit.
One of these reports for a proposed mine at Dongarpal mentions mongoose, civets and monkeys, but no big cats. Another report on the proposed mine at Asaniye said there is no wildlife at all in the area. ''The only animals mentioned were rats. The report said that there is no wildlife in the area,'' said Pradipeshwar Thikar of the Village Committee against Mining in Asaniye.
Reacting to the report on the proposed mine at Kesri-Phansawade village, the forest department itself stepped in and said mining the area will ''permanently mutilate the wildlife habitat.''
In his report dated 19/03/2010, the PCCF - Wildlife, A K Joshi wrote, "It categorically emerges that the project would result in an irremediable and permanent mutilation of wildlife habitat. Taking up new mining activities in ecologically fragile areas would be a severely regressive step with wide environmental ramifications and spell doom for floral and faunal conservation efforts. The project for Kasari-Phansawade Iron Ore Mine is recommended to be rejected."
The Forest Cover Report of the Forest Survey of India makes it abundantly clear that the Western Ghats ought to be treated as an important corridor.
The report also states that camera trap pictures in the Radhanagari Wildlife Sanctuary area show the presence of tigers. Radhanagari Sanctuary is just north of Sindhudurg forest cover. It connects the Sindhudurg stretch to the Sahyadri Tiger Project.
Importantly, in villages that are barely 10-20 km from the project site, a number of cattle attack cases have been reported indicating presence of predators like the tiger and leopard. Records show that in the last four years, there have been 136 cases of leopard and tiger attacking cattle in Sindhudurg.
In fact the report also came down heavily on the forest department officials at the local level.
The report says, "The DCF Sawantwadi Division and the CF Kolhapur Circle have not expressed their views in a professional way. The project area covers about 75,000 trees. The DCF Sawantwadi Division has not commented on the floral and faunal diversity."
Union Minister Jairam Ramesh had written to the state government on October 15 this year, urging the state to review the mining leases in this verdant belt.
Maharashtra government has accepted that the environment reports are flawed but the acknowledgement has not translated into any action, leaving the bio-diverse hotspot of Sindhudurg and its big cats at the mercy of government action.