The tiger’s most unfortunate truth — besides the fact that man wants to make a meal of its bones — is that the ground beneath its feet is rich with minerals, and greed has cast its eye on it. Millions of hectares of ‘tigerland’ have been diverted for mining and the demand to open up more escalates. The latest horror story is from Rajasthan.
The state’s apathy is evident in the fact that tigers went extinct in Sariska in 2004. A massive effort, and hundreds of crores of rupees later, the tiger staged a return, only to have its guardian, the state imperil its refuge by granting leases to no less than 40 mines around the reserve. Tadoba in Maharashtra fares no better, with 16 proposed mines, coal washeries and thermal power plants coming up in its fringes in addition to the 25 that already operating. Maharashtra has also thrown open the rich forests of Sindhudurg for iron ore and bauxite, granting 49 leases in a biodiversity hotspot and a crucial wildlife corridor connecting Radhanagri, Koyna and Anshi-Dandeli Tiger Reserve. Experts have called it “an ecological disaster”.
The forests of Jharkhand, Orissa, Karnataka, Goa and Chhattisgarh have been ravaged by mines. Saranda in Jharkhand, containing Asia’s largest Sal forests, lost over 40 per cent of canopy cover to iron ore mines. Once the big boys of steel come in, two-thirds of the forest will be taken up by mines and Saranda will be lost forever.
The Madhya Pradesh chief minister’s vow to ‘save tigers’ reeks of hypocrisy. MP has floated proposals for coal mines near Bandhavgarh, and the forest corridor between the Bori-Satpura and Pench Tiger Reserves. Six of these are in Chhindwara, the constituency of roads and highways minister Kamal nath, already at odds with the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) which refused the expansion of NH-7. Incidentally, this highway cuts through the Kanha-Pench corridor.
Corridors are vital for the survival of the tiger. Mines in such close proximity will wreak havoc on the fragile ecosystem and isolate tiger populations, leading to a genetic dead-end. Fragmented habitats also push tigers into human habitation, escalating man-tiger conflict.
Efforts by environment minister Jairam Ramesh to rationalise and restrict the opening up of forests for mining have met with all round criticism, even from the Prime Minister’s Office.
The battle will only intensify given that the demand for coal is set to touch about 2,300 mt per annum by 2030 from the current 600 mt. With India’s main energy thrust continuing to be thermal power plants, development pundits fail to comprehend the import of such projects. When we pillage the earth on which the tiger walks, when we mine its forests or poison our water sources, it leads to loss of livelihood, huge amounts of displacement and consequent unrest.
Prerna Singh Bindra is a conservation journalist The views expressed by the author are personal