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Maharashtra: Tadoba tiger reserve faces coal mine threat


Daily News & Analysis, 30th August, 2015


Maharashtra: Tadoba tiger reserve faces coal mine threatIn what will be seen as a setback for another critical tiger corridor in the country, the environment ministry's forest advisory committee has recommended clearance for the extension of the Durgapur open cast mine, run by Western Coalfields, near the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) in Chandrapur, Maharashtra.


The Tadoba national park is Maharashtra's oldest and biggest national park. The ministry's decision is significant as, just this May, a study carried out by the Wildlife Conservation Trust revealed that 48 tigers inhabited forests outside of the protected areas in Chandrapur district.


            According to a Greenpeace report, the government has already allowed diversion of 2,558 hectares of forest for coal mining in Chandrapur district since 2000. More importantly, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) considers conservation of tiger corridors vital to prevent segregation of tiger populations and even the state forest department has admitted that tigers and leopards are commonly seen in the area.


The open cast mine, with a capacity of 2MT per annum, is located 12.25 km from the TATR and will supply coal to the Chandrapur Super Thermal Power Station, run by Maharashtra State Power Generation Company.


The mine operations require cutting down of 121.58 hectares of forest. The FAC granted stage-I clearance for the mining project after it commissioned Wildlife Institute of India to chalk out mitigation measures for wildlife protection. The ministry though has not specified the mitigation measures that were accepted before granting clearance.


While discussing the project for clearance, it was observed that the forest to be cut down for the mine is located at the western end of TATR south corridor.


This corridor connects the tiger reserve to Chaprala wildlife sanctuary and further to Indravati Tiger Reserve, Chhattisgarh. The FAC, though, maintained that the forest diversion will not have any impact on the movement of animals using this corridor, but additional diversion of forest may impair the functionality of the corridor that is under consideration. The Maharashtra forest department's clearances do not make any mention of tiger corridors, although NTCA has counted the habitat around TATR as a critical habitat for central Indian landscape.


Furthermore, according to a site inspection report by the ministry's Bhopal office, sloth bears, leopards, wild pigs, bluebulls and barking deer roam in the forest to be cut down for the mine. At variance with the FAC's observations about the tiger corridor, the site inspection report also states that "there will not be much impact on general ecosystem as the area is plain and in continuation of existing mines."


Local activists said this is a continuing trend of granting clearances in critical tiger habitats that will adversely impact connectivity between key protected areas. Activists also questioned whether the project has obtained wildlife clearance under Wildlife Protection Act, as it falls in a tiger corridor. Recently, the NHAI was asked by the NGT to seek wildlife clearance for widening of NH7 project as it cuts through Kanha-Pench tiger corridor.