A conservation body affiliated with the United Nations has claimed that the Maharashtra government has initiated the Rs. 600-crore Sarambala irrigation project in the rich wildlife habitat in Western Ghats without seeking the mandatory approvals from the central government.
Nicole Duplaix, chair of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)-Otter Specialist group, has alleged that the project does not have the necessary “forest, wildlife and environment clearance” from the Union ministry and was being developed in violation of environmental laws.
The Union environment ministry gives three approvals for big projects if they involve forest and rich wildlife zones. Sarambala, coming up in Sindhudurg district 500 km south of Mumbai, requires all the approvals as the project would lead to submergence of 150 hectares of forest land and is also home to endangered species such as the Oriental small-clawed Otter and Royal Bengal Tigers.
In his communication to environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan, Duplaix also alleged that the mandatory public hearing with the locals was not conducted.
Duplaix claimed that the project was conceived for the benefit of the mining industry in the region and would further entail environment, forest and wildlife destruction in the area.
What worries IUCN — the body responsible for listing endangering species across the globe — is that the project could mean the extinction of Oriental Otter, spotted for first time in Maharashtra recently.
The IUCN has placed conservation of four Asian otter species as its top conservation priority since 2004 as their numbers were falling due to increased poaching. “The presence of the Oriental small-clawed otter in the project-affected area is significant to our long-term conservation efforts,” said Duplaix, who teaches at Oregon State University in United States.
Asking the ministry to re-evaluate the project, the IUCN said tigers have been spotted in the district recently and the project area is part of the Sahyadri-Konkan wildlife corridor. Building the project can adversely impact free movement of tigers and otters, both of which are protected under schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act.
The issue is likely to be discussed at the next meeting of the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife headed by environment minister Natarajan.