Nagpur: A study conducted by the Network for Conserving Central India (NCCI), an umbrella group of 67 researchers and NGOs, has concluded that its work in the Central Indian Landscape (CIL) has provided pathways towards people-oriented conservation in a human-dominated landscape.
The study recommends including local communities is key to long-term conservation and development in regions such as Central India. The CIL includes several embedded tiger reserves like Kanha, Satpuda, Pench, Melghat, Tadoba, Navegaon-Nagzira, Bor, Kawal and Achanakmar and forest corridors that are essential for wildlife movement and genetic continuity across the landscape. The CIL harbours 29% of the country’s tiger population.
A study ‘Pathways towards people-oriented conservation in a human-dominated landscape: The network for conserving Central India’ by conservationists Amrita Neelakantan, NCCI, Kishor Rithe, Satpuda Foundation, Gary Tabor, Centre for Large Landscape Conservation, USA, & Ruth DeFries, Columbia University, New York, shows that NCCI has provided a platform for collaborations in landscape-level conservation that maintains biodiversity and livelihoods for local people in a globally important tiger conservation region within a complex social-ecological system.
"Using the NCCI as an example, our study identifies indicators to track progress in collaborative landscape-level networks across four dimensions — the composition of the network, collaborative scientific output, dissemination of research outputs through social, electronic, and print media, and participation in policy and decision-making bodies," says lead author Neelakantan.
Since 2013, the NCCI members conducted research that predominantly addressed human-wildlife conflicts and livelihood needs around PAs with less attention to forest ecology and climate.
"Our analyses highlight the NCCI’s role as a knowledge platform and bridge among researchers, NGOs, and government, with significant opportunities for boundary work in the science, policy, and practice interface (SPPI). A challenging and unfulfilled goal is the engagement of local communities to co-produce approaches that balance conservation, local livelihoods, and development," said another author Rithe.
"Researchers working in many conservation landscapes have identified the need to focus on human well-being alongside conservation goals and science-informed conservation networks to achieve a balance among multiple objectives that serve both present and future conditions," said Rithe.
In the Central Indian region, the NCCI has helped provide a knowledge-base and a platform for collaborations that improve the well-being of local communities, conserve habitat for wildlife, protect watersheds, promote sustainable tourism, and accommodate development needs for improved infrastructure.
The CIL spans across MP, Chhattisgarh, & Maharashtra encompassing more than 4.50 lakh sqkm. The NCCI is evolving into a bridge institution to address the difficult challenge of fostering bottom-up involvement of local communities to further democratize the top-down decision-making structure.
It states that networks of NGOs alongside other stakeholders are especially important for local communities who have few avenues to engage in policy and decision-making even at the local scale. NGOs play a crucial role in providing a bridge for wildlife, stakeholders, and policy-makers.
Global Tiger Day 2021 was celebrated in villages of buffer area of Pench Tiger Reserve. On the occasion, a rally was organised to create awareness about benefits of tiger and wildlife conservation. Village children, youths, eco-tourism guides, gypsy drivers along with forest department staff took part in the rally. Posters painted by the village children depicting messages such as ‘Tiger is our friend’, ‘Let’s conserve tigers and wildlife’, ‘Stop poaching, start protecting’ so as to make the villagers aware about issues and solutions for tiger conservation. These posters were put up in the front of bicycles which led the procession. The rally procession was flagged off from the Sillari eco-tourism gate of the Pench Tiger Reserve at the hands of Mr Parab, ACF for Special Tiger Protection Force and Mr Tate, RFO for East Pench Range. Satpuda Foundation’s (SF) Assistant Director Mr Mandar Pingle, SF's Conservation Officer Mr Bandu Uikey and Ms Prajapati of PACE Foundation were also present during the flag-off.
As the rally procession reached its first halt in Sillari village, the children, village youths, guides and forest department staff raised slogans to encourage villagers to contribute towards tiger and wildlife conservation initiatives. Rally participants raised slogans to make the villagers aware about various threats to tigers such as poaching, electrocution, poisoning mostly done for superstition and black magic. Along with this people were made aware about harms of habitat loss due to overgrazing, deforestation, illicit tree felling and encroachment of forest lands as direct threats to tiger population. The procession proceeded further passing through lanes of Pipariya village and making its residents aware about these issues. The rally participants also planted 30 odd saplings of indigenous tree species such as karanj and tamarind alongside the Pipariya to Salai village road before the rally culminated in Ghoti village. Village children and the nearby farmers have taken up the responsibility for the survival of the planted saplings.
In Ghoti village, RFO Mr Tate, Round Officer Mr Parikar, VEDC president Mr Warkhade and vice-president Mr Lanjewar distributed cattles to five beneficiaries of the village. These good quality cattle breeds were purchased with the help of funds received through the Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Jan Van Vikas Yojna in order to improve livelihood through livestock management and also to reduce grazing in forest area. The beneficiaries had earlier sold their cattle which they used to take inside the national park boundary for grazing. This sometimes led to conflict situations where tiger attacked and killed their cattle. A prize distribution was arranged for children who had participated in a drawing and painting competition. These children were earlier provided with paints and paper sheets and asked to draw and paint pictures depicting the tiger in its habitat. The winners of the competition were pesented with school backpacks by the VEDC. RFO Mr Tate presented the prizes to the children.
Round officer Mr Parikar, Satpuda Foundation's Bandu Uikey and young volunteers Pawan Chincholkar and Divyam Walke along with Ghoti VEDC vice-president Mr Lanjewar took efforts to make the event successful.
NAGPUR: A month ago, getting people vaccinated in the buffer villages of Pench Tiger Reserve (PTR), Maharashtra, was more difficult than tiger conservation. Today, with the intervention of wildlife conservation NGO Satpuda Foundation, locals are coming forward to get inoculated and ward off Covid.
In April, when Covid-19 had spread its tentacles in rural areas, tribal villagers surrounding Pench buffer initially agreed to take the vaccine. However, some of those bearing comorbidities died despite getting jabbed. Victims also included patients who were Covid positive but showed reluctance to go for tests.
"This sent a wrong message among the locals, who were then scared to get inoculated, and did not even allow vaccination teams in their villages. The general perception was that they will die after getting the vaccine shot," said Kishor Rithe, president, Satpuda Foundation.
However, added Rithe, "Our mobile health unit involved in regular non-Covid health check-ups in buffer villages was allowed, uninterrupted. We seized this opportunity by showing films and audio-visuals to sensitize people. The plan is working now."
Last week, the NGO organized free non-Covid health camps for Pench buffer villages, covering Usripar, Ghoti (I & II), Kadbikheda, Kirangisarra and Jamuniya.
Along with free consultation by an experienced doctor, people’s blood pressure, sugar and pulse levels were checked and medicines offered. "Since last month, our team, along with the offices of Ramtek tehsildar and Deolapar subdivisional officer (SDO), is engaged in creating awareness regarding Covid testing and vaccination," said Mandar Pingle, senior field officer.
"We are showcasing audio-visuals to help villagers understand precautions to prevent Covid spread and also clear misconceptions and myths regarding vaccination. Positive impact of the drive can be seen this week as a good number of people between 18-45 years of age have now turned up for vaccination drives in Pipariya, Ghoti, Sillari," said Rithe.
Even members of the Vyaghra Mitra Mandals, known as primary response teams (PRTs), guides and gypsy drivers are now getting themselves vaccinated in large numbers.
Nagesh Maraskolhe (25, a resident of Sillari) said, "There was a sense of fear during the first vaccination drive as many messages were circulating on social media about deaths caused by the vaccine. As a result, I was hesitant to take it."
However, said Maraskhole, "We were made aware about precautions to prevent Covid spread during a film show by Satpuda Foundation in our village this month. The best part is that people are undergoing free health check-ups by Satpuda Foundation before getting vaccinated. I got my first shot a few days back and will take the second jab as well."
NAGPUR: The greenfield cement project of Birla Corporation Limited’s wholly owned subsidiary Reliance Cement Company Private Limited (RCCPL) in Mukutban area of Yavatmal district will have to wait for now as a four-member committee has been appointed to study the wildlife clearance proposal.
The RCCPL on January 22, 2018, had received Stage-II clearance from the environment ministry for the diversion of 467.45 hectares reserved forest land under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. There was no mention about clearance from the forest department’s wildlife wing.
The tiger-bearing area falls in compartment numbers C-26, C-27, and C-33(A) falling in Hirapur, Govindpur, and Pimparwadi villages in Zari-Jamni taluka under Pandharkawada forest division in Yavatmal forest circle.
According to the documents, there are resident tigers in the diverted area. On April 26, a gravid tigress with four cubs in the womb was burnt to death by miscreants in the Mukutban range. The area is on the northern side of the proposed cement plant.
The land diversion hit hurdles in 2019 when it was found that the entire forest area proposed to be diverted falls in the tiger corridor of Tipeshwar wildlife sanctuary-Tadoba-Andhari and Kawal tiger reserves.
The patch is also the part of the Tiger Conservation Plan (TCP) approved by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (TATR) in 2016-26. Section 38 (O) (1) (g) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act (WPA), 1972, calls "to ensure that tiger reserves and areas linking one protected area or tiger reserve with another protected area or tiger reserve are not diverted for ecologically unsustainable uses, except in public interest and with the approval of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) and on the advice of the NTCA".
The NTCA too had sought a report about the project falling in the corridor. Accordingly, PCCF (wildlife) Nitin H Kakodkar had sought a proposal on wildlife clearance from then filed director of Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR).
"Now, before clearing the ground for wildlife clearance, the state chief wildlife warden has set up a four-member committee to study the proposal. The committee will conduct a site visit before making a decision," said sources.
The committee will be headed by CCF & field director of MTR, conservator of Yavatmal Circle, state wildlife board member Kishor Rithe, and Yavatmal honorary wildlife warden Ramzan Virani. The committee has been asked to submit the report in one month.
TOI on August 26, 2019, was the first to report about it. The company will now have to seek clearances from the State Board for Wildlife (SBWL) followed by NBWL.
In 2018, clearance to the Reliance cement project had snowballed into a big controversy as wildlife activists alleged Pandharkawda tigress T1 aka Avni was shot dead to pave the way for the cement plant. But the proposed area is 70km (as crow flies) from T1 territory.
Sources said the forest to be diverted is of high value with 0.4 density. There are resident tigers in the area and the forest is contiguous the plant will break connectivity.
The application seeking diversion of forest land was officially moved in July 2009 and in-principle approval came in 2012, but due to non-compliances, the proposal was pending. The final approval came in January 2018 after completing all the formalities including payment of net present value (NPV). The Birla Corporation plans to invest Rs2,400 crore in the project.
Citing an alarming increase in the frequency and ferocity of assaults on forest officers particularly in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan, a Maharashtra-based environment group has moved the Supreme Court for solutions.
Kishor Rithe has filed an interim application through his NGO Nature Conservation Society, Amravati, against the Centre, chief secretaries of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, district collectors of areas, where the assaults have been reported, and the directors-general of police of the three states. It requests the court to direct the Centre to ensure the protection of officers and staff of the forest departments, provide social security, ex-gratia payments, and medical treatment costs of the injured personnel. The application has also sought speedy investigations into the attacks.
The court has admitted the application.
According to data collected from territorial forest areas (11 circles), wildlife sanctuaries, national parks, and tiger reserves in Maharashtra (except Dhule and Kolhapur), 656 forest officers have been injured in assaults between 2010 and 2020. As many as 47.5% of the assaults were reported between 2017 and 2020. Twenty-four forest officers have been killed in Maharashtra over 10 years. Rithe is collecting similar data for Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
"The involvement of a large number of people, mostly encroachers and those belonging to timber mafia armed with deadly weapons, has led to serious injuries to the forest personnel on duty, many of whom have been hospitalised and are in critical condition," the application said. It added these attacks have had a chilling impact and made it increasingly difficult to protect forests.
Rithe said a majority of the attacks on the forest department officials are mainly carried out while removing encroachments. "So, saving forest lands has been most difficult in India," he said. "The problem is widespread in other states also with a more serious situation in MP [Madhya Pradesh]."
Nitin Kakodkar, Maharashtra’s principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife), said the assaults have been reported for a long time now but there has been a surge in the recent months. "It definitely needs some redressal. Let us see what the SC [Supreme Court] has to say about this."
On September 2, the Indian Forest Services Officers Association made a representation to Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar seeking better protection and social security for over 50,000 personnel working in remote areas.
To tackle water crisis for wild animals during summer, Satpuda Foundation's young members of the Vyaghra Mitra Mandal from Khapa village constructed a check dam to make available water during summer for wild animals.
These youths are part of a primary response team (PRT) formed by Satpuda Foundation, an NGO working for wildlife conservation in Central India, to reduce human-wildlife conflict in the buffer area of Pench Tiger Reserve (PTR) in Maharashtra.
Seven youths with assistance from Satpuda Foundation constructed a check dam on a stream in the forest area near Khapa. Krishna Madavi, a wildlife lover and regular volunteer of Satpuda Foundation, said, "We constructed this check dam so that water is available for wildlife and livestock too."
Pipariya gram panchayat sarpanch Shekhar Khandate said the PRT along with Satpuda Foundation and the forest department is actively working to reduce human-wildlife conflict.
Field assistant Dilip Lanjewar said the check dam construction will help prevent wildlife conflicts and also provide water for agriculture.
Conservation officer for Satpuda Bandu Uikey said the project will not only help animals but communities too. Similar activities have been planned during the week in other villages of the buffer area of Pench.
"Braving Covid-19 these community members are openly coming out by following social distancing norms for wildlife conservation. This is truly humbling and inspiring," says Mandar Pingle, assistant director of Satpuda Foundation.
Kishor Rithe, founder Satpuda Foundation, said, "Community participation is key for long-term wildlife conservation and undertaking such activities have huge positive impacts on wildlife conservation on the ground."
Ramnath Kokode, Dharmaraj Kumare, Sahdeo Tumdam, Krishna Madavi, Rohidas Kumre, Rajkumar Kokode and Ranjit Uikey of Khapa village volunteered during the shramdaan programme.
The canal passes through protected areas such as Umred Pauni Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary and Tiger Reserve as well as the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve
Wild animals, including tigers, are using overpasses built atop an irrigation project on the Wainganga river in Maharashtra, underscoring the importance of built-in mitigation measures for linear infrastructure and other developmental projects.
The state irrigation department informed a sub-committee of the State Board of Wildlife (SBWL) authorities during a meeting on Thursday evening that they had completed constructing 27 of 54 overpasses that are on average 30 to 50 metre (m) wide each. The underpasses are built over the 99-kilometre (km) Gosikhurd irrigation canal, which extends from Bhandara to Chandrapur districts. The canal passes through protected areas such as Umred Pauni Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary and Tiger Reserve as well as the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR).
Irrigation department officials stated that tigers were using the overpasses across at least two locations in south Brahmapuri region surrounded by fragmented forest patches. They also shared photographs to bolster their contention.
"We have documented tiger movement across Halda and Wandra areas in this region, where photographs have been taken over the past year at two specific overpasses. However, there are reports of several other areas, where local villagers have spotted tigers and other animals, including deer, boars, wild dogs etc, all using these overpasses," said JM Shaikh, chief engineer (projects), Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC).
The Gosikhurd project starts from Pauni in Bhandara district and it was inaugurated on April 22, 1988, to divert water to Wainganga, Wardha and Tapi basin and annually irrigate 3.38 lakh hectares (ha) in around 720 villages in western Vidarbha.
The break-up of the areas irrigated annually in Bhandara, Nagpur and Chandrapur districts are 89,856 ha, 19,481 ha and Chandrapur 1,41,463 ha, respectively, in a bid to boost commercial crop production.
This is the first irrigation project in Maharashtra that has built-in wildlife mitigation measures, the state forest department authorities said.
"The feasibility of these overpasses shows that we need many more such structures to ensure the uninterrupted movement of big cats and other animals and are not deterred due to developmental models," said Nitin Kakodkar, principal chief conservator of forests (PPCF) (wildlife), Maharashtra. He claimed that this could be one of the first wildlife passages built over a canal in the country.
The forest department has planned a study by setting up camera traps in the area. "Over six months, we hope to get an idea of how many tigers or other animals are using these structures," said Kakodkar.
A February 2020 report by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, had recorded 5,450 wild animal photographs captured through camera traps over a 10 month period – between March and December 2019 -- across nine underpasses along the National Highway (NH)-7 near the Pench Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra.
The study documented 18 animal species using these mitigation measures, including 11 tigers using six of the nine underpasses.
Kishor Rithe, member, SBWL, said, "At present, these wildlife overpasses are concrete structures. The fact that it is being used is the first step. We have suggested that there should be greening of these structures with soil and vegetation to resemble forest in a bid to encourage the animals to use them regularly. Besides, they should be made in such a way to discourage local villagers from using their vehicles. Boulders can be put up to ensure unhindered movement of animals."
Though the original proposal was to build 64 overpasses, it was realised that 54 overpasses were sufficient following site-specific studies, said Shaikh. While 27 have been constructed across the 99-km stretch since 2017, 10 are under construction ranging from 47 to 99 km.
Of the remaining proposed underpasses, local villagers have opposed the construction of five that are located within the first 30 km. "However, three structures can be built," said Shaikh.
Kakodkar said, "The irrigation department has informed us about the opposition from local villagers due to fear of tigers and other carnivores entering the agricultural landscape leading to conflict."
Rithe said a team of non-government members and forest officials from the sub-committee would visit the site to assess alternate options for constructing the five overpasses.
NAGPUR: In some good new amid the Covid-19 pandemic, India’s tiger population has showed a steady increase from 2,226 in 2014 to 2,967 in 2018. This was possible as individual reserves have been shining as an outcome of village resettlement works and containing poaching threats.
Talking to media on eve of Global Tiger Day , Kishor Rithe, working for tiger conservation in Vidarbha landscape, said, "Some 30 years ago, we had a dream to regain our lost tiger population and focused on resolving key issues like huge anthropogenic pressure from villages situated in the core areas and rampant poaching."
The Maharashtra government brought out a lucrative relocation package and expedited village resettlement work and also took several measures to arrest poaching threat due to which tiger population increased from 100 to 300 in last 30 years in the state. "This is really laudable and it happened due to political will and committed forest officers," Rithe stated.
However, with growing tiger population a section of officials have coined the idea to shift 50 tigers from Vidarbha landscape and sterilize male tigers. "I want to remind them that India had 40,000 tigers in 1900. If the forests of this country could host 40,000 tigers in 1900, why can’t it host 3,500 tigers today?" he asked. It is a problem of management and not tigers, he adds.
Rithe said the real solutions lie in strengthening tiger corridors and regaining fragmented habitats lost due to due to infrastructure projects and agricultural encroachments. "Linear infrastructure projects like expressways, highways, railways, irrigation canals and transmission lines are coming up in the corridors causing problems for tiger survival."
"Agriculture encroachments are fragmenting tiger corridors outside PAs and tiger reserves. The surface transport, railways, water resources ministries are reluctant to accept responsibility of avoiding tiger corridors and adopt appropriate mitigation measures on their own while deciding project alignments. Why do they need NGOs and courts to tell them to do it?" Rithe asked.
"We have not reached a tiger number to start thinking about sterilizing tigers or translocating them. We only need to strengthen corridors. On the Global Tiger Day, respective departments need to take a pledge for green infrastructures and readiness to protect tiger corridors," said Rithe.
The ministry of road transport and highways issued order on May 29, 2019, to bypass PAs while deciding its alignments, even if it requires taking a longer route.
Former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis allocated enough money for wildlife mitigation structures on Mumbai-Nagpur Samruddhi expressway. Present chief minister Uddhav Thackeray asked to upgrade Akola-Khandwa meter gauge line from outside the core area of Melghat tiger reserve. "These are positive developments for tiger conservation and it will take work to the next level," he applauded.
NAGPUR: Nagpur: In a fresh move, the BJP government at the Centre wants the Maharashtra government to reconsider the forest land diversion proposal for upgradation of railway line passing through Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR). The Melghat railway line issue was one among other pending infrastructure projects discussed on July 7 during the Group of Infrastructure meeting between highways minister Nitin Gadkari, railway minister Piyush Goyal and environment minister Prakash Javadekar, and officials of department concerned.
In the meeting, railway officials submitted that the standing committee of National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) on February 25, 2019, returned the proposal to Maharashtra government for submissions and comments, which are awaited. To this, the ministers expressed displeasure against state for non-submission of comments.
"We have apprised the state government about the Group of Infrastructure meeting, and displeasure expressed by the ministers," said APCCF & nodal officer Sanjeev Gaur.
Of the 176km railway line — Akola-Akot (44km), Akot-Amlakhurd (78km), and Amlakhurd-Khandwa (54km) — 35km falls inside tiger reserve, of which 18km passes through the core area. The South Central Railway (SCR) requires forest diversion of 161 hectare area. The railway ministry has sanctioned Rs1,421.25 crore for the project.
On February 25, NBWL had rejected the proposal and returned it to the state government. The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in their comments had recommended that only feasible mitigation is ‘avoidance’ of gauge conversion and alternate routes or alignments bypassing the tiger reserve should be taken up.
State wildlife board member Kishor Rithe said, "I don’t think chief minister Uddhav Thackeray, who was so sensitive about Aarey in Mumbai and did not allow trees to be cut, will ever allow such massive destruction through core area of Melghat, where rich biodiversity will be destroyed and thousands of trees will be felled."
Environment lawyer Manish Jeswani, who had moved Supreme Court’s Central Empowered Committee (CEC) on the issue, said, "No mitigation steps will match the ecological damage. NTCA and WII have clearly said ‘alternate route’ is best mitigation. Hence, there is no question of reconsideration. The proposal was sent back to the state in February last when BJP-Sena government was in power and it too had opposed gauge conversion through Melghat."
In March, Shiv Sena MP from Buldhana Prataprao Jadhav opposed railway line through Melghat and said the gauge conversion will, in the long run, increase train traffic resulting in huge disturbance to presence of tigers and other wildlife in the area. Alternate route will be a win-win situation for all. "The Wan sanctuary of tiger reserve has been made inviolate by rehabilitating 13 villages from core area by spending over Rs402 crore. The gauge conversion will reverse the benefits accrued from rehabilitation and habitat development," said Jadhav.
NAGPUR: The State Board for Wildlife (SBWL), Maharashtra’s topmost statutory body to deal with projects affecting tiger reserves, national parks and sanctuaries, was on Tuesday reconstituted with Vidarbha getting good representation.
The SBWL is headed by chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and forest minister Sanjay Rathod is vice-president, while PCCF (wildlife) Nitin Kakodkar is its member-secretary. The reconstituted board will have 29 members including PCCF, eight wildlife experts, six representatives of NGOs and government-owned institutions and top officials of various departments concerned.
Main functions of the SBWL, formed under Section 6 of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 in all states, are conservation and protection of wildlife in protected areas, selection and appraisal of areas to be declared as sanctuaries etc.
The term of the last SBWL expired in November 2019. Six non-government members who have been appointed on the board include Bittu Sahgal (Mumbai), Kishor Rithe (Amravati), Poonam Dhanwatey & Kundan Hate (Nagpur), Anuj Khare (Pune), Yadav Tarte Patil (Amravati), Suhas Waigaokar (Kolhapur), and Vishwas Katdhare (Ratnagiri).
The board will also have top NGOs working for wildlife including Anish Andheria of Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT), Bandu Dhotre of Eco-Pro, Chandrapur, Deepak Apte of Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). It will also have representatives of Botanical Survey of India (BSI), Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) and Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun.
NAGPUR: Over 200 intellectuals, researchers, wildlife and forest experts have moved Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar to withhold forest and environmental clearances during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Covid-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdown across the nation have created extraordinary challenges for India’s citizens and for governance. The measures that the government has taken to adapt to this unprecedented situation include a shift to online platforms for consultation and decision-making.
"However, these measures are still inadequate and we have grave concerns about the manner in which forest and environment clearances are being granted during this pandemic," they said.
Among the signatories include former National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) members MK Ranjitsinh, AJT Johnsingh, Asad Rahmani, Belinda Wright, Bittu Sahgal, Biswajit Mohanty, Kishor Rithe, Prerna Singh Bindra, Claude Alvares, Divyabhanusinh Chavda, Praveen Bhargav, Shekar Dattatri and others.
The central government and various statutory authorities are under orders of apex court to ensure that forest and environment clearances comply strictly with the guidelines laid down in the Lafarge Judgment of 2011.
"Meeting via videoconferencing handicaps such authorities from carrying out the roles that they are mandated to fulfil by the Supreme Court. Therefore, the decisions taken at the 57th meeting of the standing committee of NBWL on April 7, 2020 related to 31 proposals affecting 15 tiger reserves, sanctuaries, notified eco-sensitive zones (ESZ), deemed ESZs on the fringes of protected area and designated wildlife corridors must not be implemented and must be visited afresh following due process after the end of the pandemic," they said.
First, site inspections, which are a crucial component of project evaluation, are very difficult to implement during a pandemic. Appraisals and assessments for clearance are being reduced to an mere formality, lacking credibility. Site inspections may be necessary and it is inconceivable that clearances can be granted in all cases without site inspections by experts.
Second, due to the national lockdown since March 25, the ministry appears to be relying only on digital documents uploaded by project developers on single-window clearance portal — Parivesh.
Supreme Court guidelines have specifically pointed out that identification of an area as forest solely based on the declaration by the user agency is leading to fait accompli situations. The compliance of these norms may not be possible during the lockdown which may amount to a serious deviation in the clearance process.
Under normal circumstances, project developers would be expected to provide documents that elucidate a project’s impact on environment for clarification during in-person meetings. In several instances, documents are also requested via Speed Post, which may not be possible due to travel restrictions.
Third, as a result of travel restrictions, Covid-19 distancing and other hardships to livelihoods during the lockdown, it is difficult to implement the ministry’s own mandated procedures in the foreseeable future.
"In view of the compelling facts and circumstances outlined above, we request that implementation of decisions taken by the NBWL via videoconferencing be held in abeyance until pandemic-related travel restrictions are lifted to allow in-person meetings and travel to project sites for fresh appraisals following due process," said the experts.
"We further urge that all meetings of NBWL, Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) and all the 10 EACs be postponed as long as travel restrictions make verification of documents during in-person meetings, local representations, and site visits difficult," they added.
Celebrating a quiet World Forest Day because of COVID-19, the Satpuda Foundation (SF) has announced a gift for children of Mowgli's Pench landscape: an education van for the Pench Tiger Reserve in Nagpur district of Maharashtra.
"The education van was planned to be inaugurated on World Forest Day in Pench, however, we have postponed the programme as the schools are closed and social gatherings are banned to prevent from the infection of COVID-19," said veteran conservationist and SF founder Kishor Rithe.
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Satpuda Foundation, one of the leading NGOs in central India has been working on environment education programme since 2001 in Pench and other Tiger reserves. This year the SF has designed a science-based conservation education programme aiming for the tiger conservation. The project is funded by B C Mehta trust in England through "The Fable Fund".
The well-equipped education van will operate in 26 buffer villages of Pench Tiger Reserve showing films on "conservation and benefits" to children, organise interactive programmes with tribal youths to provide them livelihood opportunities and also focus on reducing anthropogenic pressure on tiger habitat by mobilising village eco-development committees, said Mandar Pingle, Education officer working on this project.
"Satpuda Foundation has already recorded many achievements in the Pench landscape and we hope that the Fable Fund will bring measurable change in the Tiger conservation scenario", said Nikita Mehta of B C Mehta Trust.
A unique mobile health service (MHS) is helping the tribal villages of Pench to prevent COVID-19 infection. The initiative was started by Satpuda Foundation (SF) to serve in the Tiger Reserve buffer villages in January 2014.
The SF Mobile Health Service has conducted health camps in six buffer villages and treated 300 patients from Wagholi, Sillari, Khursapar, Sawara, Khapa and Ghoti. There are hundreds of examples.
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"Patients suffering from fever and cough were particularly worried about the possibility of having the virus infection. However, the MHS doctors made the patients aware of the symptoms of coronavirus and the routine fever and cough," Satpuda Foundation founder Kishor Rithe said.
The MHS also made the patients aware of the dos and don'ts to prevent the virus infection.
Dr Manohar Khode, who has more than 20 years experience of serving in the tribal villages of Melghat, treated the patients and interacted with them.
The MHS has treated around 70,000 patients in the last six years and also provided the patients with further support for surgeries, eye operations and dental extractions.
Section 144 was imposed in Nagpur city and academic institutions too decided to close down to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The health sector is serving the public day and night.
The Maharashtra government's move to revive the Human dam project at Tadoba in Chandrapur district is being strongly opposed by environmentalists saying that it would have far-reaching consequences on the tiger habitat.
At an expert committee meeting held in Mantralaya, convened by Vikas Kharge, principal secretary to Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, environmentalists registered their strong opposition to the project.
In the meeting, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) director Dr Deepak Apte, Satpuda Foundation founder Kishor Rithe, Eco-Pro president Bandu Dhotre, who are also NGO members, opposed the project.
"We have opposed the Human dam project," said Rithe.
The irrigation project is to be built across Human river in Wainganga/Godavari basin near Sirkada village in Sindewadi tehsil of Chandrapur district. The Human river is a tributary of Andhari river, which ultimately joins Wainganga.
The submergence and downstream area between Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve and Brahmapuri Forest Division is a tiger corridor that connects other tiger source populations in the Satpuda-Maikal tiger landscape. Tadoba landscape is home to over 160 tigers, environmentalists pointed out.
A BNHS report pointed out that the villages that would be fully submerged are Palasgaon, Piapra-Perna, Sirkada, Vihirgaon, Manemohadik, Khambada, Gondeda, Kewada, Pendhari is the narrowest tiger corridor between Chandrapur and Brahmapuri forest divisions. Besides tiger, the area has a good population of leopards, sloth bear and wild dogs.
NAGPUR: NGOs and civil society organizations working for tribal rights always claim that it is the tribals who are the real protectors of forests. But, the data in recently released Indian State of Forest Report-2019 states that forest cover in tribal districts have drastically fallen.
As per the ISFR-2019, Maharashtra has lost very dense forest (VDF), moderate dense forest (MDF) and open forest (OF) to the size of 63sqkm, an area half of Tadoba National Park (125sqkm), in recorded forest area (RFA) and 31sqkm outside RFA.
As per the latest report, forest cover in the state is 50,777.56 sqkm. In 2017, the cover was 50,682sqkm. So, even as Maharashtra has gained 95.56sqkm of forest, it lost equal amount of dense forest in 12 tribal districts.
Forests play an important role in the socio-cultural and economic life of the tribal people. Hence, Forest Survey of India (FSI) monitors and analyse the forest cover in tribal districts.
There are 218 tribal districts in 27 states/union territories. As per the report, though there is an overall increase in forest cover in tribal districts by 1,181 sqkm, forest cover inside the RFA in tribal districts shows a decrease of 741 sqkm. RFAs are recorded as forests in government records.
In Maharashtra, there are 12 tribals districts with a geographical area of 1,44,233 sqkm. These districts include Ahmednagar, Amravati, Akola, Aurangabad, Beed, Bhandara, Buldhana, Chandrapur, Dhule, Gadchiroli, Gondia, and Nandurbar.
A comparison with ISFR-2017 shows that Maharashtra lost forest cover in all the three categories in these tribal districts. Forest area of all the three categories was 25,112sqkm in 2017. In 2019, it was recorded as 25,049, a loss of 63sqkm. But 31sqkm was also lost outside RFA.
PCCF (HoFF) Dr N Rambabu said, "We are evaluating the areas where FSI has reported change. Till then it will not be proper to tell the reasons for decline in cover in these districts."
The VDF was 6,902 sqkm while in 2019 it was 6,891 sqkm, a loss of 11sqkm. Similarly, MDF was 9,850sqkm, which was recorded as 9,813sqkm, a loss of 37sqkm, and open forest, which was 8,360sqkm in 2017, was recorded as 8,345sqkm, a loss of 15sqkm.
Wildlife experts have attributed one of the major reasons to loss of forest in tribal districts to encroachments under individual forest rights (IFRs) of Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006.
"FRA implementation started in 2007. Most of our best quality forests are in tribal districts only. Surprisingly, forest cover has continued to decline in all these districts since 2011 till date," says wildlife conservationist Kishor Rithe.
"This also reflects in district-wise forest cover in Maharashtra where it has declined in 9 of the 12 tribal districts. Gadchiroli, where most of the CFRs and IFRs have been granted, lost 87sqkm area, followed by Chandrapur (35sqkm)," says Debi Goenka, executive trustee, Conservation Action Trust (CAT).
"I’m not ready to believe forest cover has increased. The loss of cover in tribal districts is apparently due to FRA encroachments. In Tadoba buffer alone, 400 hectare area has been encroached upon by people," said Gadchiroli honorary wildlife warden Uday Patel.
"Besides FRA, felling of natural forest by FDCM and heavy logging operations are also big reasons. Plantations cannot be a supplement to natural forests. Increase in open forest by 191sqkm, which has a canopy between 10-40%, is not a positive sign," Patel added.
FRA activist Dilip Gode blamed the forest department for decline in cover in tribal districts. "Why did the forest officials not take any action against encroachments after the cut-off date of December 13, 2005 under FRA? Besides, districts like Gondia, Gadchiroli and Chandrapur are vulnerable to forest fires affecting cover. Officials are never punished for fires. A tripartite committee should inquire evaluate the reasons for decline in forest cover in tribal districts."
NAGPUR: The Supreme Court’s Central Empowered Committee (CEC) has stayed upgradation of three road proposals through Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR) in Amravati district.
These roads will not only impact tigers and other wild animal species but also park’s ecology. The standing committee of National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), at its 54th meeting on July 18, 2019, had recommended three road proposals through MTR. These road proposals include Chaurakund-Chopan-Khokamar, Karanjkheda-Hatru-Raipur-Semadoh and Karanjkheda-Hatru-Raipur-Semadoh (part II).
Though NBWL is the topmost body taking decision regarding projects falling in tiger reserves and wildlife sanctuaries, CEC has power to re-examine such proposals as per SC order on October 5, 2015 in matter related to wildlife sanctuaries and national parks.
CEC member secretary Amarnatha Shetty, in his communication to MoEFCC on October 22, 2019, has pointed out that the committee would like to examine the three road proposals from adequacy of mitigative measures against adverse impacts on ecological integrity of MTR.
The CEC has sought all the relevant papers and various reports including site inspection report from the user agencies. The agencies have also been asked not to proceed with the road upgradation works.
State wildlife board (SWBL) member Kishor Rithe, whose Satpuda Foundation has been working in Melghat for three decades, said, "The issue had come up in SWBL meeting on December 5, 2018. A section of members had opposed the upgradation saying it would impact tigers. The opposition did not reflect in the minutes of the meeting and hence road upgradation proposals were forwarded to NBWL, which approved them."
Rithe said large-scale road development in Melghat relates to issue of malnourishment since 1996, when many roads were pushed for black-topping. However, when the state was pointed out that in tiger reserve core areas, there is no issue of malnourishment, chief secretary had curbed allocation for tar roads.
Printed from NAGPUR: Even as Global Tiger Day (GTD) is celebrated on July 29, Maharashtra has overcome many challenges in tiger conservation in last 10 years, and left with a few critical ones, which will be the deciding factor in coming years.
Talking on the eve of GTD on various issues related to tiger conservation, Kishor Rithe, chief of Satpuda Foundation, and former member of Standing Committee of National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), said village relocation, zero tolerance on poaching and wildlife trade, staff recruitment, and placing efficient officers in wildlife reserves are some of reasons behind increasing tiger population in Maharashtra.
By Annie Banerji
Printed from NAGPUR: TURIYA, India, March 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - B obbing along a dirt track in a central Indian tiger reserve, Varsha Hinge surveyed the landscape for pawprints and listened out for deer calls warning of tigers before holding up a finger for silence - as a tigress appeared in front of her jeep.Hinge is one of 10 women safari guides at the Pench Tiger Reserve who are earning their stripes through long days helping tourists catch a glimpse of tigers, leopards and wolves.
From entrepreneurs to restaurateurs, dozens of women living near the national park are breaking with tradition in Madhya Pradesh, where village women veil themselves in front of men and are usually confined to their homes as mothers and homemakers.
"In the beginning, I was very hesitant and I doubted myself, thinking I wouldn't be able to do this," said Hinge, ahead of International Women's Day on Friday."I live in a village with my in-laws and (initially) I just couldn't get comfortable with the idea of wearing pants and shirts in front of them," the mother-of-two told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The journey has not been easy for these women. Girls in Madhya Pradesh often drop out of school young and wed soon after to live a restricted life bound by age-old customs.The female guides are helping to upend sexist views in India, which has one of the fastest growing major economies globally but startlingly few female employees, in large part due to prejudice against working women.
Only about one in four women work in India - home to 1.3 billion people - which is a lower rate than in most countries, according to the World Bank.With no prior work experience and homes full of children and in-laws, the women had to overcome not only their own anxieties but also stiff opposition at home and in their new workplace.
Hinge said it took a lot of coaxing to get her husband's support.
"I realised that as a homemaker, I would be limited to the four walls of my house and wouldn't grow or contribute anything to my family," she said. "So, I decided to convince everyone and go for the job."
Forsaking their traditional saris and kurta tunics, the national park's first 10 female guides underwent months of training in spotting big cats to prepare for their unusual jobs, where they spend hours cooped up in jeeps with strangers. "Before this, I didn't even know how to interact with people properly ... or know what the word for 'tree' or 'bird' was in English," said safari guide Sunanda Kawal, 24. "But after joining, I've seen a great improvement in myself. I've gained a lot of knowledge and my fears have started to fade away." As a series of safari jeeps lined up to enter the park, one male guide advised a tourist to stick with the men "if you really want the best experience", saying his women counterparts were not as qualified. The women guides said such comments were common. Most of the 50-odd male guides remain bitter, three years after the women joined their ranks, saying they are not up to the job and are taking their share of safari rides and pay, the women said. Guides can earn up to 12,000 rupees ($170) a month - far exceeding the average for a rural Indian household. "The male guides didn't want us to work here at all. Even now, they keep to themselves and talk to each other, but not us," said Kawal, adding that her male colleagues accuse the women of "casting an evil eye" on the park. Hinge's husband Pradeep Kumar, also a safari guide, said he was ostracised by his workmates for supporting his wife. Yet he believes female safari guides have something new to offer - to their communities and customers. "We have seen a change in the women since they got these jobs. It allows them to earn money and that automatically makes a difference at home and within the family," said Kumar. "Plus, there are always some women guests who come here and say, 'We want a woman guide, not a man'. That way it is a win-win."
While male guides may still be icy, the women say villagers have started warming up to them after noticing the extra money they bring home, with many now supportive of their girls working outside the home. That was one of the main goals for the Satpuda Foundation, which helps women to make and sell everything from pickles to takeaway meals as part of its community-based conservation work in the area - one of the world's largest tiger landscapes. "We have seen a change in attitude of locals," said Kishor Rithe, the charity's founder. "The tiger definitely plays an important role in the women's economic development."
Studies show that women who have financial control invest more in their children's education, healthcare, businesses and communities, which can be a step out of poverty.
One of the Satpuda Foundation's latest initiatives is the Mowgli Restaurant - a small, dimly lit roadside eatery named after the boy in Rudyard Kipling's childhood classic "The Jungle Book", which is believed to have been inspired by Pench. Collectively owned and run by eight village women, the venture has made nearly 40,000 rupees since opening in December, serving rice, dals, curries and snacks to a growing number of customers on their way to and from the park. Sandhya Daherwal heads a local women's group which helped to set up the restaurant and other small businesses that have given about 100 women their own source of income since 2015.
"I wanted to do something with my life and I wasn't going to let some naysayers stop me," she said. "Success speaks for itself. When you do well, your respect in society automatically rises. And thanks to the tigers here, that is happening." ($1 = 70.7520 Indian rupees) (Reporting by Annie Banerji @anniebanerji, Editing by Katy Migiro; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience.
Printed from NAGPUR: A young tiger crossing one of the overpasses of Gosikhurd canal in Halda in Brahmapuri proves why mitigation measures for linear projects are necessary.
Forest sources claimed it was the same two-year-old tigress that had mauled two persons and injured eight in Halda, Murpar, Dorli, Awalgaon, Vandra, Chichgaon and Padmapur villages in South Brahmapuri range. It was captured on March 4 and sent to Gorewada Rescue Centre at Nagpur.
However, state’s chief wildlife warden Nitin H Kakodkar said, "I’m not sure. We will have to confirm from the stripe pattern whether it is the same tigress."
The picture of tigress crossing the overpass was captured by wildlife photographer Mayank Mishra, also one of the contractors and for the project. "I could capture picture of the young tigress 15 days ago during the day. In search of new territory, the tigress was frequently sighted by labourers at work even during the day. There was scare among the people," Mishra said.
AR Kamble, chief engineer of Gosikhurd irrigation project, told TOI, "Constructing overpasses is one of the conditions to get forest clearance. At some locations we have passed canal through reinforced cement concrete (RCC) conduit and then canal ground level is restored by backfilling."
"This is one of the methods for creating wildlife passes. It looks like natural habitat for tigers and it is good that big cats are using them. We will construct 24 such passes on the canal by June this year. The right bank canal (RBC) is 99-km-long," Kamble added.
The Gosikhurd RBC passes through dense forest areas. It is an express canal directly connected to dam at Paoni. Last year, dominant tiger of Umred-Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary Jaichand had slipped in the main canal due to absence of mitigation steps.
Forest officials admit around 50 incidents of animals falling into canal had occurred in last 3 years and chitals, sambars, bisons and wild boars had been rescued in them. The incidents are occurring frequently as few wildlife crossings have been made despite a state-level committee recommending them.
Tigress Kala had got stuck in a Gosikhurd sub-canal in Bhiwapur on November 24, 2011. State wildlife board member Kishor Rithe had raised the issue of mitigation measures over canals in Bhandara and Chandrapur districts in the board meeting on June 7, 2012. Taking note of it, state formed a committee on June 23, 2014, under then Pench field director MS Reddy with irrigation officials, activist Poonam Dhanwatey and Bandu Dhotre as members.
Printed from NAGPUR: Greens and even activists working under Forest (Rights) Act have said that tribals will not become homeless as feared and that "there is no need to panic". Some tribal rights activists and organizations had claimed that lakhs of tribals will be evicted post a Supreme Court order on February 13. Coming down heavily on bogus claims under the Forest (Rights) Act, 2006, the SC, directed 17 states to furnish data on eviction against rejected claims under FRA which caused panic. Of the 42 lakh title claims, 19,34,345 stood rejected as on September 30, 2018 as per ministry of tribal affairs (MoTA). This includes 18,88,066 individual claims. Kishore Rithe, who is a member of the state wildlife board, said that nobody will be homeless and landless if eviction does take place. "Most of the claimants are already land holders and they have extended their agriculture fields in the forest. These are the illegal encroachments which if removed will not make tribals landless as they would still possess legal land title as well as a house in the village," he said. One of petitioners, Praveen Bhargav of Wildlife First of Bengaluru, said, "The SC ruling is misconstrued. Of the total rejected claims, over 14.70 lakh were done at the gram sabha level, which is considered as the powerful decision-making body at grass roots. FRA deals with pre-existing rights and it’s not a land distributing law." However, senior FRA activist Mohan Hirabai Hiralal says the SC is not clear about rejected claims. "I agree that after cut-off date of December 13, 2005 or bogus claims should not be allowed. FRA also has provision of granting 90 days for the claimants to argue cases." He added, "There will be unrest if eviction without following the proper rejection titles is not followed. Satellite imagery will be the best evidence, which SC has asked Forest Survey of India (FSI) to do." Promoters of FRA — Forest Rights Alliance and Bhumi Adhikar Andolan — criticized the NDA government for non-effective implementation of the Act. In a release, CPM leader Brinda Karat demanded that an ordinance be issued to protest rights of forest dwellers. However, Dr Nishikant Kale, president of Amravati’s Nature Conservation Society which is also a petitioner in the case, says, "Most of the tribal villages situated in forest landscapes have 60% households which are landless. If the government wants to give away forest land, the country’s entire forests will not be enough to meet the requirement." "The landless forest dwelling families entirely depend on forest areas surrounding their villages for grazing, fuelwood and forest produce collection. If these lands are distributed to few claimants, a large section of tribal communities will be affected," said environmental activist Bittu Sahgal. "In Jalgaon and Nashik districts, after a long march by tribal/non-tribal farmers, a huge number of rejected claims were reconsidered and granted," said Raju Nannaware of Satpuda Bachav Kruti Samiti, Jalgaon. Dilip Gode of Vidarbha Nature Conservation Society (VNCS), who works in 450 villages in Vidarbha to protect community forest rights (CFRs), sees no problem in the SC order. "Encroachments on forest land under the garb of ‘patas’ should be freed immediately. The order is not against tribals and those who feel injustice has been done should make their representation before MoTA," he said.
Higher officials from forest including Mr. M. S. Reddy (APCCF & Field Director Melghat Tiger Reserve), Shri Vishal Mali- DFO Melghat Tiger Reserve and other staff rushed to the spot to take stock of the situation.
On 14th January 2019 around 300- 500 residents of rehabilitated villages of Akot division instigated by some local leaders and miscreants had entered the Melghat Tiger Reserve and occupied the meadows illegally.
On 22nd January 2019 at 3:00pm around hundred police staff and equal number of forest staff approached the villagers who were sitting at Kelpani to talk with them and forward their issues to the higher authorities. The local authorities had taken busses to coax the villagers, who were 200- 300 in numbers, out of the forest which they were illegally occupying. During the talks the villagers became violent and started pelting stones at the police and forest staff. Many of them came rushing at the forest staff with axe, slings, sticks, chilli powder and stones. In the ensuing melee over 50 forest staff and 15 police staff were seriously injured. Some of the staff received serious laceration injuries to their bodies, backs, arms and heads. RFO of Dhargad Mr. Sunil Wakode was also seriously injured with the villagers using an axe to attack him and his forester Mr. Ingole. Till the time of sending this report the seriously injured forest staff were on their way to hospitals in Akola and Amravati for treatment.
In the attack by villagers over 15 vehicles of the government including that of DCF Akot Mrs. T. Beula, Police Inspector Akot, etc. were damaged. The attackers ran away from the spot after this deadly attack and the forest and police staff could nab 2 to 3 people. While running away the villagers set fire to the entire meadows of that division. It is learnt that a huge area of mleghat Tiger Reserve which is core and prime habitat of tiger has been burnt down by these miscreants and villagers. No village person was injured in this exchange as police lobbed tear gas to disperse the attacking mob. Post this section 144 was imposed on this area.
Higher officials from forest including Mr. M. S. Reddy (APCCF & Field Director Melghat Tiger Reserve), Shri Vishal Mali- DFO Melghat Tiger Reserve and other staff rushed to the spot to take stock of the situation.