Green cover and wildlife population in Jharkhand’s sanctuaries are under threat from unchecked stone quarries, tree felling and construction work in the buffer zones of the wildlife reserves in the state.
With the state government yet to send proposals to the Centre to declare 10 of the 11 wildlife sanctuaries as ecologically sensitive zones (ESZs), the threat has increased, say conversationalists and wildlife experts.
Until now, only the Dalma wildlife sanctuary in East Singhbhum has been notified as an ESZ.
Environmentalists and wildlife experts, say rock blasting and unchecked intrusion of humans in the sanctuaries have disturbed animal habitats, leading to increased poaching, as a result of which animals are moving away to safer places in the neighbouring states.
Animals like tigers, gaurs, four-horn antelopes, leopards, wild dogs, wolves and mouse deer have been vanishing fast from sanctuaries in the state over the last three decades, some of them said.
“Unchecked stone-crushing units in the periphery of sanctuaries are a major threat to wildlife in the state,” said DS Srivastava, secretary (nature conservation society). The society is a member of National Wildlife Board.
The Hazaribag wildlife sanctuary – the country’s only Mahuadanr wolf sanctuary – and Lawalong wildlife sanctuary in Chatra are the worst affected from such units, he said.
“The stone-crushing units are disturbing the habitats in the sanctuaries and forcing animals to leave their bases,” he said.
HT recently visited the Hazaribag wildlife sanctuary where more than 100 stone quarries and crushing units that use detonators for blasting rock, are operating in the periphery of the sanctuary.
“With increasing disturbances in their habitation, lions and tigers have vanished while leopards are hardly seen,” said Chandra Dev Yadav, who has been a caretaker at the sanctuary for the past 30 years. “Until 1991, the sanctuary had 14 tigers,” he told Hindustan Times.
According to a Supreme Court order in 2006, all states and union territories were required to send proposals detailing the site-specific geographical extent of ESZs around environmentally protected areas falling within their boundaries.
The court later said that unless site-specific ESZs are declared, a 10-km radius around each wildlife zones is treated as a protective “buffer zone”.
According to the ministry of forest guidelines, ESZs are the ecologically important areas designated to be protected from industrial pollution and unregulated development under the Environment Protection Act of 1986.
All forms of infrastructure projects of commercial or public purpose, including mining, industries and hydro-power projects, are prohibited within such zones.
Admitting that stone quarries around the “buffer zone” of the wildlife sanctuary were playing havoc with wildlife habitat, MK Singh, Hazaribag divisional forest officer, said the district task force regularly cracked down on such units
“We have submitted plan to the department to notify a radius from 0 -5 km in the periphery of the reserve as an ESZ,” he said.
A senior forest official, who did not want to be named, said the department cannot take action against activities on non-forest land.
“Once the ESZ is declared, a committee will be formed on the Centre’s direction and it will be empowered to take action against illegal activities on non-forest land,” he said.
Like Hazaribag, more than a dozen stone quarries have cropped up within the buffer zone of the Mahuadanr wildlife sanctuary – the lone wolf sanctuary of the country – which falls under the Palamu Tiger Reserve Area.
Forest officials, however, claim that they have closed down the stone quarries more than three months back.
“There are no reports of stone crushing units in the periphery of the sanctuary,” said division forest officer (buffer) of Palamu tiger reserve, Mahaling, who goes by one name.
A proposal has been submitted to the department to notify a 10km radius of the tiger reserve as an SEZ, he siad.
Similarly, the state’s lone bird sanctuary at Udhwa Lake is also facing threat from poachers and local farmers, who have been using a huge chunk of the sanctuary land for illegal cultivation due to land ownership disputes.
Sukdev Singh, state forest secretary said the department has prepared proposals to declare areas around the remaining 10 wildlife sanctuaries as ESZs.
“We will send the proposal to the Centre for approval within a week,” he said.