The Sawantwadi-Dodamarg belt, where 30 of the 49 sanctioned mines in Sindhudurg are located, should be declared an ecologically sensitive area (ESA), activists say.
In 2000, the environment ministry had set up the Pronab Sen committee to identify ecologically sensitive areas that need protection against activities such as mining and quarrying. The committee said if an area fulfills even one of the 20 criteria it listed, it can be declared an ESA. Activists say Sindhudurg fulfills several criteria (see box).
Located 500km from Mumbai, Sindhudurg has the highest green cover in the state but is being converted into a mining hub. “The Sahyadri Ecologically Sensitive Area was proposed in 1999-2000 for an 8,000-sq-km area but the environment ministry rejected it,” said Jay Samant, former director of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). In 2003, green activists submitted the North Konkan Ecologically Sensitive Area report to the environment ministry seeking protection for the area but no action was taken.
Valsa Nair Singh, state environment secretary, said: “The state doesn’t have any information about demands that the area be declared an ESA.”
Activists said mining is a threat to wildlife. Records from the Sawantwadi forest department showed that the area has four tigers, 32 leopards and other protected animals. “The Sawantwadi-Dodamar corridor is vital not only for the biodiversity of the Western Ghats, but also for water security of the region,” said Bittu Sahgal, editor, Sanctuary Asia, and member of the National Board for Wildlife. BP Valumbe, deputy conservator of forests, Sawantwadi, said the mines are not in notified forest areas. “It [mining] will cause no harm to the forests and wildlife,” he said. Stalin D, director of Vanashakti, pointed out that in Kalne village, the iron ore mine is barely 150m from Kalne River, which provides water to the area and also to parts of Goa. “This has not been mentioned in the environment impact assessment report,” he alleged.
The environment ministry set up a committee under ecologist Madhav Gadgil to make recommendations for the region. A detailed report is expected by March.