Chhattisgarh minister rebuts forest dept on Lemru elephant reserve expansion
Raipur: A row has erupted in Chhattisgarh over a letter purportedly written by the forest department stating that Congress leaders including state health minister TS Singhdeo wants the area of Lemru elephant reserve to be reduced by one fourth with Singhdeo claiming his name was “wrongly” included in the letter.
On June 26, forest department official KP Rajput wrote a letter to Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) stating that eight legislators including Singhdeo have urged the department not to extend the Lemru elephant reserve to 1995.48 square km from 450 square km due to public sentiment against the proposed expansion in Jashpur-Surguja region. The letter said the leaders were against any expansion of the reserve.
Singhdeo rebutted the forest department claim in a letter to the forest department on July 2, insisting that he never sought reducing the area of the proposed elephant reserve.
The Chhattisgarh government has been considering the extension of Lemru elephant reserve area. Activists want the entire catchment area of Hasdeo river to be included in the reserve.
“It has come to my attention that a letter on my behalf seems to have been portraying that taking into the consideration the public’s sentiments, I have given consent to reduce the size of the Lemru Elephant Project to 450 sq km. However, this is totally untrue and misleading,” the minister said. He stressed that he had registered my consent to dedicate 1,995.48 sq km for the project on the condition that no villages of his constituency should fall within this area. “Though I was assured by the concerned authorities that no villages from Ambikapur constituency was within the purview of this project, some villagers registered their objection to me,” he said.
The minister said villagers from Udaipur and Lakhanpur blocks claimed that they are being pressured by forest officials to consent to the expansion of the elephant reserve.
“Upon receiving this complaint, I looked into the details of the project and found that the project’s area has been almost doubled to 3,827.64 from the initial proposal of 1995.48 sq km,” he said.
“I have never proposed to reduce the size of Lemru elephant reserve to 450 sq km... Instead, I have advocated re-imposing the ‘No Go Zone’ as it was under the UPA government,” Singhdeo said.
Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife ), Narisimha Rao PV, said the department has nothing to do with the communication.
“As a department, we don’t come into picture. I don’t know why and on what ground the letter was written to me,” said Rao PV.
KP Rajput, forest department official whose letter triggered the row, declined to speak on the issue. “I don’t want to comment,” he said.
“Singhdeo has clarified his position that the Lemru elephant reserve area should be 1,995 sq km and never asked for reducing it to 450 sq km. In this situation, it is clear that the area of Lemru reserve is planned to be reduced due to pressure from mining companies,” said Alok Shukla, convener, Chhattisgrah Bachaao Andolan.