With the Centre likely to regularise over 1,000 land deals in the Western Ghats, besides 10 resorts and 215 windmills that have come up in the ecologically sensitive zone, Maharashtra is all set to get another hill station — New Mahabaleshwar — near a recently created tiger reserve.
The standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) has agreed to rationalise the boundary of the Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary, now a Sahyadri tiger reserve, subject to a decision of the Bombay HC and the SC-appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC).
According to a PIL filed by Nana Khamkar in the Bombay HC, rationalisation of boundaries was an attempt to regularise 215 windmills, 10 resorts and 1,200 land deals that had come up in violation of the Forest Conservation Act. “The state government allowed these structures to come up without waiting for rationalisation of the sanctuary boundaries,” it contended.
An environment ministry official, however, defended the decision by saying that the state government will add six times the land removed from Koyna (about 100 sq km) to five different wildlife sanctuaries in the state. Moreover, the decision would be subject to a final view of the HC and the CEC, he added.
Maharashtra had declared Koyna as a wildlife sanctuary in 1985. It comprised 230 sq km of forested area and 198 sq km of non-forested land.
The state’s forest department conducted inspections between 1995 and 1998 to “delete” part of non-forested area from the ambit of the sanctuary.
However, over the years, the government allowed windmills and resorts to come up without deleting them. In 2000, the apex court disallowed deletion of land from national parks and sanctuaries.
Later, in 2004, the state – without getting the Centre’s nod – declared the development of the New Mahableshwar hill station and included 14 Koyna villages in it. In a few years, most of the land in the villages was sold illegally.
In 2010, the state government declared the entire Koyna region as the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve. Though the Forest Conservation Act mandates that taking the opinion of the National Tiger Conservation Authority is mandatory before rationalising boundaries, it was not done.
Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan said she would take a call on the issue after “returning from Rio de Janeiro by June 28”.