The Madhya Pradesh government has told the National Green Tribunal (NGT) that there is “no proposal” for the declaration of the Ratapani wildlife sanctuary as a tiger reserve, which means that the state will not get its seventh big cat habitat.
In 2008, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) had given its approval for the ‘in-principle’ change, following the state government’s consent. However, on Friday, the state government, while hearing an appeal to prevent tigers from entering human habitats, told the tribunal that there was no question of declaring the core area of Ratapani as “a must for a tiger reserve”.
The core is the most protected region of a tiger reserve, where all types of development and human activities are prohibited. Unlike tiger reserves, wildlife sanctuaries do not have core and buffer areas. In the case of Ratapani, a core area would have meant the relocation of around 11 villages.
The tribunal had asked the government to consider several measures, including the conversion of Ratapani, in order to put a check on the regular intrusion by tigers in Bhopal, only 40 km away.
KERWA-KALIASOT WILL ALSO NOT BE A CONSERVATION UNIT
In the same reply, the MP government also declared its intention to not announce Kerwa-Kaliasot as a conservation unit, a matter which has pending since 2011. The hearing, which was scheduled for Friday has now been listed on February 10.
The MP high court in October 2015 had issued notices to the Union environment ministry and state forest department, asking them why Ratapani has not been notified as a tiger reserve despite the “in principal approval” the proposal had received.
At least two tigers and three cubs from Ratapani have reached close to Bhopal over the past four months, including an adult cat, which had wandered into the Central Institute of Agricultural Engineering campus, on the outskirts of the city.
‘GOVT MISLED GREEN TRIBUNAL ON RATAPANI PROPOSAL’
MP government has misled the National Green Tribunal on the proposal of declaring Ratapani wildlife sanctuary as a tiger reserve, activist Ajay Dubey alleged.
Dubey has filed a petition in the high court on the sanctuary and is an intervener in a case in the NGT.
Dubey said that he has many documents and correspondence between senior wildlife officials, where they are talking about the proposal of declaring Ratapani as a tiger reserve.
Hindustan Times has copies of these documents.
“I have copy of a departmental note written on July 17, 2014 where the principal chief conservator of forests says that after National Tiger Conservation Authority’s in principle approval, his office had started the process for declaring Ratapani as a tiger reserve. He also says that in this connection the department would send the format of the notifications concerned to the state government. He also says that the format of the notification for identifying 849.027 square kilometre of Ratapani wildlife sanctuary as core area had been sent to the state government on December 16, 2011,” said Dubey, adding that he will submit the documents to NGT.
A senior wildlife official on the condition of anonymity said that there was a proposal with the department to declare Ratapani as a tiger reserve, but the final decision on the proposal was to be taken by the state government.
“If the state government says it is not considering the proposal, it is a decision it has taken. Department cannot do much about it,” he said.
The proposal for declaring Ratapani as a Tiger Reserve was moved in the backdrop of increasing tiger population in the sanctuary, which had repeatedly started spilling over and moving on to the Kerwa and Kaliasote forests of Bhopal.
There are 24-28 tigers in Ratapani wildlife sanctuary, apart from six to seven tigers that have been straying out of the sanctuary.
SANCTUARY-TO-RESERVE STICKING POINTS
Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 says that the state government shall on the recommendations of the tiger conservation authority notify an area as “tiger reserve”.
According to state government, from 2008 onwards various steps were taken but no notification could be issued because of the area/boundary dispute of the Ratapani sanctuary.
In November 2015, senior wildlife officials suggested that the possibility of issuing a notification for declaring Ratapani as a tiger reserve could be explored subject to specific conditions.
It requires Rs 600 crore from Centre for relocation of at least 11 villages from Ratapani.
It requires in principle approval of the state cabinet.
(Pointers based on the reply of the government advocate in the case on Ratapani in the Madhya Pradesh high court)