HC orders Centre to declare Sawantwadi-Dodamarg wildlife corridor as ESA | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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HC orders Centre to declare Sawantwadi-Dodamarg wildlife corridor as ESA

Apr 14, 2024 06:38 PM IST

The NGOs had moved the high court to protect the corridor which has around 303 species of plants, shrubs and trees, several with crucial medicinal values, 18 species of wildlife, including Asiatic elephants, Bengal tiger, leopards, black bear and wild buffalos, and 13 species of birds

MUMBAI: The Bombay high court (HC) has recently directed the Centre to declare Sawantwadi-Dodamarg wildlife corridor in Sindhudurg district as an eco-sensitive area (ESA) and continue the embargo on tree felling in the corridor till the final ESA notification is issued.

The wildlife corridor is a densely forested area in the Western Ghats that’s home to several species of animals, plants, perennial streams and indigenous flora and fauna, including tigers and elephants. (Hindustan Times)
The wildlife corridor is a densely forested area in the Western Ghats that’s home to several species of animals, plants, perennial streams and indigenous flora and fauna, including tigers and elephants. (Hindustan Times)

Sawantwadi is 466 km by road from Mumbai, and Dodamarg is 526 km. The drive from the city to Dodamarg takes about 7 hours and 42 minutes. The wildlife corridor is a densely forested area in the Western Ghats that’s home to several species of animals, plants, perennial streams and indigenous flora and fauna, including tigers and elephants.

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The division bench of justice Nitin Jamdar and justice MM Sathaye has directed the Maharashtra government to submit in four months a proposal to the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) to declare the corridor – area comprised of 25 villages from Dodamarg and Sawantwadi talukas – as an ESA. The MoEFCC declares ESAs to minimise the impact of development activities.

The bench has directed MoEFCC to issue a final notification declaring the corridor an ESA in six months thereafter. The court has also continued the restraint imposed earlier on cutting trees in the corridor and directed the district collector, the superintendent of police, Sindhudurg, and the deputy conservator of forests, Sawantwadi to ensure that there is scrupulous compliance with the injunction on tree cutting. The officers are also directed to form a task force to ensure that the Corridor does not suffer ecological damage.

The March 22 order became available on Friday, April 12.

The bench issued the orders on separate public interest litigations filed by city-based non-governmental organisations, Awaaz Foundation and Vanashakti way back in 2012 and 2014, respectively, for declaring the 26 villages in Sindhudurg district as ESA, as contemplated under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.

The NGOs had moved the high court to protect the corridor which has around 303 species of plants, shrubs and trees, several with crucial medicinal values, 18 species of wildlife, including Asiatic elephants, Bengal tiger, leopards, black bear and wild buffalos, and 13 species of birds.

They had approached the high court claiming that in the preceding two years over 18 lakh trees had been destroyed/felled in Dodamarg forest circle alone by clearing around 640 hectares of forest cover for facilitating mining activities and therefore, sought restraint on the bauxite and iron ore mining in the area.

The petitioner bodies contended that the stretch spread over around 35 sq km facilitates the movement of wild animals such as Asiatic elephants, tiger between Koyna and Radhanagari wildlife sanctuaries and Chandoli National Park and the destruction of the corridor would isolate the wildlife.

They further pointed out that two rivers originate from the corridor which also serves as the catchment area for the third. They said the corridor forms an important part of the Sahyadri Konkan Wildlife Corridor and the ecosystem was fragile and would not be able to sustain the large-scale exploitation, especially mining activities.

The state government had, however, opposed the petitions. Though it accepted that the corridor serves as a passage for wild animals, it claimed that the area was a protected conservation reserve and therefore didn’t require a separate protection as an ESA.

The court, however, rejected the argument after noticing that only two of the 25 villages falling within the corridor were covered by two different conservation reserves and even otherwise, the level of protection to wildlife differs in the conservation reserves and the ESA.

Vanashakti later brought to the notice of the court some crucial reports prepared by the forest department itself. One of the reports by the principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife) had described the Corridor as “a treasure of biodiversity, and it is a home of rare species whose protection is crucial.”

The NGO also pointed out a study conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India, which recorded presence of 21 species of mammals, such as tiger, leopard, wild dog, sloth bear, gaur, sambar, barking deer, four-horned antelope, mouse deer, wild pig, bonnet macaque, Hanuman langur, Indian hare, Indian porcupine, palm civet, small Indian civet, ruddy mongoose, grey mongoose, rusty spotted cat, stripe-necked mongoose, and pangolin in the region.

“The WII study categorically records that the corridor is a critical connecting link and bottleneck between the northern and central Western Ghats in the Sahyadri-Konkan corridor,” the bench said.

“Despite overwhelming scientific evidence and a consensus on the importance of protecting the critical Corridor, it is unfortunate that very little has been done over the past decade. To make matters worse, large-scale deforestation is carried out,” the court said while ordering the Centre to declare the stretch an ESA.

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