Maharashtra proposes declaration of 11 conservation reserves to protect 1,076 sq km forest area
The Maharashtra forest department has proposed the declaration of 11 conservation reserves (CR) in western Maharashtra and Vidarbha. It has also requested allocation of Rs 20 crore annually for the conservation and management of CRs. The State Board of Wildlife (SWL), chaired by chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, will decide on these proposals n Friday.
Among the 11 proposed CRs, eight are in western Maharashtra (five in Kolhapur, one in Sindhudurg and two at Satara) while two are in Nagpur and one is in Amravati. The total protected area is 1,076.19 sq. km, which is equivalent to 10 times the area of Mumbai’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park (103 sq. km).
Among new proposals, the department has proposed the Chandgad CR at Kolhapur across 225.24 sq.km with 23 villages connecting the Tillari CR with Bhimgad Sanctuary in Karnataka. At Sindhudurg, 56.92 sq.km with 13 villages has been proposed as the Dodamarg-Amboli CR, which connects Tillari with tiger breeding areas of Karnataka’s Bhimgad Sanctuary and Goa’s Mhadei Sanctuary. Another area in Kolhapur, where the iconic melanistic leopard was photographed, Ajra-Bhudargad has been proposed as a CR across 246.63 sq.km encompassing 37 villages.
“The idea is to have forest connectivity along this Western Ghats landscape allowing tiger and other wildlife dispersal without the threat of development,” said Kakodkar. Other comparatively smaller CRs include Gaganbawda (105.48 sq. km), Panhalgad (72.9 sq. km), Vishalgad (92.24 sq. km), all at Kolhapur, Jor-Jambhali CR (65.11 sq. km) in Satara connecting with Mahabaleshwar-Panchgani areas, and the bird haven of Mayani CR (8.67 sq. km) at Satara.
Three CRs in Vidarbha include Mogarkasa (37.7 sq. km) and Munia (97.37 sq. km) in Nagpur, and Mahendri (67.48 sq. km) in Amravati.
“We are going one step further from them just having reserved forest status. The idea is to protect them under the Wildlife Protection Act (WPA), 1972, by declaring them as CRs. Any development projects proposed within these CRs will need clearance under the Forest Conservation Act, 190, the SBWL and the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL). To that extent, there will be control on developmental projects in these areas,” said Nitin Kakodkar, principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife), Maharashtra.
CRs are protected areas that act like buffer zones and migration corridors between national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, reserved and protected forests. Unlike sanctuaries and national parks, CRs don’t have their own buffer zones. Any developmental or agricultural activity within a CR must have the approval of state and Central wildlife boards.
In addition to six national parks and 49 wildlife sanctuaries, Maharashtra has seven CRs. On June 23, the state had declared a 29.53 sq. km area as the Tillari CR, covering 10 villages in Sindhudurg district, making it the first in the Konkan belt. “The idea is to have forest connectivity along the Western Ghats, allowing tiger and other wildlife dispersal without the threat of development,” said Kakodkar. “A minimum of Rs.25 lakh is to be allotted to every CR or more based on the CR’s area or requirement.”
Experts have questioned the state’s intention of declaring areas CRs rather than sanctuaries or national parks. “The department feels they can avoid headaches by issuing CR notification. Officers do not want to get involved in the tedious legal processes under WPA, and hear villagers’ problems. By doing so they deprive villagers of their rights and resettlement and ex-gratia packages from the state,,” said Kishor Rithe, a non-government member of the SBWL.
However, Kakodkar said declaring an area a CR is a preliminary step. “It does not make sense to notify only the reserved forest as sanctuaries unless non-forest areas are also taken up and there, the settlement procedure has to be followed, which takes much longer to provide protection,” he said. Kakodkar also said the forest department has prepared an action plan regarding rising leopard deaths and kills, which will be discussed at today’s SWBL meeting.