Centre directs Maharashtra forest department to safeguard Aarey leopard habitat
The official who sent the note to the forest department and other officials of the environment ministry were not immediately available for comment on Tuesday, a national holiday.Updated: Oct 09, 2019 01:39 IST
The Union environment ministry has directed the Maharashtra forest department to take urgent action on saving the leopard habitat in Aarey.
Interestingly, the ministry’s note to the department refers to the area as “Aarey forest”, although it wasn’t immediately clear whether this was just a general acknowledgement of how the area is known, or actually a recognition of it as a forest.
The official who sent the note to the forest department and other officials of the environment ministry were not immediately available for comment on Tuesday, a national holiday.
The direction by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) comes in response to a detailed representation made by city-based NGO Empower Foundation on September 7, seeking the ministry’s intervention on the threat to leopards, listed in schedule I of The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, under the highest level of protection.
The representation had provided proof of the presence of at least nine leopards in Aarey near the proposed car depot site of Metro-3 project. HT reported this on September 8.
The letter, dated October 3, is signed by R Gopinath, joint director (wildlife) at the ministry and is addressed to the principal chief conservator of forest (chief wildlife warden), Maharashtra. A copy has also been marked to Empower. HT has reviewed a copy of the letter. It reads: “The matter relates to leopard and its habitat declaration by construction and non-forest activities in Aarey forest, Mumbai. In this context, it is requested to take necessary further action in this matter at the earliest.”
Gopinath refused to comment while another MoEFCC official, who asked to not be named, said: “Aarey is a large area and the protection of schedule I species is extremely important. However, it is the responsibility of the state to ensure there is no threat to their survival.”
PCCF Wildlife Nitin Kakodkar said he has not received the letter yet. “Firstly, I am not aware of the exact contents of this letter. Also, Aarey is spread across over 1,000 hectares, so we need to understand which area the MoEFCC might be talking about. Further directions will be issued only when we see the letter.”
Empower Foundation’s representation to the ministry annexed a right to information (RTI) response from the Maharashtra forest department in May, confirming that seven leopards had been rescued, tranquilised or trapped from Aarey in 2016, 2017, and 2018.