The Great Indian Bustard a rapidly dwindling, rare species of bird of which only 34 are left in Maharashtra is set to lose more than 96 per cent of its only sanctuary in the state.
The Nanaj bird sanctuary, spread over 8,500 sq km in Solapur and Ahmednagar districts of western Maharashtra, will be reduced to just 300 sq km by a state government decision that has shocked environmentalists.
A part of the sanctuary falls within the Shrigonda Assembly constituency of state Forest Minister Babanrao Pachpute, the man entrusted with protecting the state’s wildlife and forest cover. A panel of experts, appointed by the government under Supreme Court directives, had suggested that at least 14 per cent of the sanctuary (1,190 sq km) should be retained to save the bustard from extinction.
YLP Rao, conservator of forests, Pune, and member secretary of the expert committee, told Hindustan Times that the panel had suggested retaining 14 per cent of the sanctuary to help the bustard survive. However, when HT contacted Pachpute, he said the government decision to retain only 300 sq km of the sanctuary was taken as per the recommendations of the expert committee.
He said the government had decided to file an affidavit requesting permission to retain 300 square km of the sanctuary and that the “final decision will be taken by the Supreme Court.” In 2006, the government had filed a petition in the apex Court, requesting permission to reduce the sanctuary area.
There were 100 of Great Indian Bustards when the sanctuary was set up in 1975. There are three other sanctuaries for the bird in Rajasthan, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
Declaration of the area as a sanctuary has, however, been a thorny issue for local residents and farmers. Since they are not allowed to sell or develop any land that falls within sanctuary limits under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 they have been seeking denotification of the area.