Green ministry likely to approve mining projects in Pench Satpuda tiger corridor
Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan has asked officials to clear the backlog of pending projects by the end of September, but wildlife activists are seeing red.
A panel of the Union environment ministry which will meet on Thursday for the fourth time in over a month to speed up project approval will consider three proposals to divest forest land from the Central India’s Pench Satpuda tiger corridor for mining. The panel normally meets once a month.
The frequent project approval committees meetings are part of environment minister Harsh Vardhan’s directive to decide on pending projects soon to clear the backlog.
Sources said the minister has asked the officials to place maximum proposals for consideration of the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC), the statutory and the wildlife panel, which he heads.
On Thursday, the ministry’s statutory body for diversion of forest land for development, the FAC, will be meeting for the fourth time in 41 days. Before August, the FAC used to meet only once a month, a norm for past many years.
Thursday’s meeting is crucial as three mining projects in Pench Satpuda tiger corridor that will lead to diversion of the 440 hectares of “dense and moderate” forest land will be examined. The government has cited country’s energy security and poverty alleviation as major reasons for approving these proposals.
Wildlife activists, however, differ and say the approval will harm tiger protection efforts in Central India.
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“Maintaining tiger corridors in Satpuda landscape is utmost important for tiger conservation. The proposed mining projects and ancillary activities associated with it would certainly break the forest connectivity and also affect functionality of these tiger corridors,” said Kishor Rithe, President, Satpuda Foundation and former member of the ministry’s wildlife committee called Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL).
The public sector Hindustan Copper Limited’s underground mining proposal in Balaghat is just 7.5 kms away from Kanha tiger reserve, one of the most densely populated big cat habitats in the country. The second proposal is for underground mining in Jamuna and third is in the north-eastern part of Pench Satpuda valley.
Officials said that minister Vardhan has set September end as deadline to clear pending projects. The move is aimed at improving India’s ranking in ease of doing business, where slow environmental approvals are considered one of the biggest roadblocks.
On September 4, the wildlife panel delegated powers to the states to approve drinking water and optical fibre projects passing through the forest areas. The proposal was submitted by the Gujarat forest department.
The panel also approved an irrigation project in a green corridor connecting three tiger reserves --- Kawal in Telangana with Tadoba-Andhari in Maharashtra and Indravathi in Chhattisgarh. According to the minutes of the meeting, the panel cleared about 30 projects including mining, road and rail expansion and irrigation proposals. Some of the proposals were, however, deferred for want for information.