At a time when the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) is trying to improve the tiger habitat and their numbers in Chhattisgarh and Odisha, the union environment ministry’s wildlife board has cleared an air-strip in the buffer area of Indravati Tiger Reserve, Bijapur and also approved renewal of an iron mining license near the Similipal Tiger Reserve in the Badampahar reserved forest.
Compared to the states such as Madhya Pradesh or Maharashtra that have a high tiger population, Chhattisgarh and Odisha lag behind. While the Indravati tiger reserve serves as a crucial tiger corridor linking it to the Tadoba-Andhari tiger reserve in Maharashtra, the Similipal tiger reserve has seen a reduction Badampahar forests serve as a crucial elephant corridor.
According to the 2014 all India tiger estimation report, Chhattisgarh has shown an increase in tiger numbers due to the first extensive assessment of Indravati Tiger Reserve but Odisha has shown a decline due to loss of tiger habitat.
Official documents show that the airstrip inside buffer area of Indravati Tiger Reserve has been planned to counter left-wing extremism in the region. But interestingly, there was no discussion in the wildlife board meeting on the potential disturbance to wildlife due to operations at the air-strip, according to the minutes of the meeting.
In fact, even the NTCA approved the project without much resistance. The wildlife board though has granted wildlife clearance with riders. The Wildlife Institute of India (WII) has been told to work out a plan to reduce disturbance to wild animals and accident by vehicles as the air strip will be located close to the forest area.
To distract animals from coming close to the air strip, creation of water bodies and development of grassland has to be taken up in buffer ranges of Bijapur. As compensation, Rs5 crore, the state government has to deposit Rs5 crore in the tiger conservation foundation.
Meanwhile, independent experts in the wildlife board highlighted the importance Mayurbhanj Elephant Project close to the iron mine. It was suggested that adequate mitigation measures are needed for preventing human-elephant conflict As part of mitigation efforts the mining company M/s Lal Traders and Agencies has been asked to deposit 2 per cent of project cost or Rs.1 crore, whichever is lesser. The company has also been asked to fund a project on elephant dispersal from Similipal Tiger Reserve to adjoining landscapes.