Three wildlife sanc­tu­ar­ies miss­ing in Jhark­hand

Jhark­hand gov­ern­ment has qui­etly wiped three wildlife sanc­tu­ar­ies off its records in West Singb­hum dis­trict to abet iron ore min­ing

Down to Earth - - Front Page - ISHAN KUKRETI

IN AN al­most Kafkaesque de­vel­op­ment in Jhark­hand, ar­eas which should have been wildlife sanc­tu­ar­ies, teem­ing with an­i­mals and birds, now lie hol­lowed out and turned into open­cast iron ore mines. This has hap­pened in the hands of the state gov­ern­ment. In an elab­o­rate plan it has clan­des­tinely wiped three wildlife sanc­tu­ar­ies off its records in iron ore-rich West Singb­hum dis­trict—these are Sasangdabu­ru in Saranda for­est di­vi­sion, Bami­aburu in Kol­han for­est di­vi­sion and Son­gra or Tebo in Po­ra­hat di­vi­sion. The plan has been so metic­u­lously ex­e­cuted that one has to sift through records of the past 55 years to un­mask it.

These sanc­tu­ar­ies have been men­tioned in a report pre­pared by the now de­funct In­dian Board for Wild Life (IBWL) on Novem­ber 24, 1965, for a del­e­ga­tion of the In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture. Bi­har (un­di­vided), the report says, has seven pro­tected ar­eas—two na­tional parks and five sanc­tu­ar­ies. They also fea­ture in the In­dian For­est Records: Glos­sary of terms used in na­ture con­ser­va­tion and wild life man­age­ment, pub­lished by the For­est Re­search In­sti­tute (FRI) in 1970. The book, au­thoured by P Venkatara­many, says while Son­gra sanc­tu­ary was cre­ated in 1932, the re­main­ing two were cre­ated in 1936. But two of the sanc­tu­ar­ies just van­ished from the day the Wildlife Pro­tec­tion Act, 1972, was en­acted. “The Act says sanc­tu­ar­ies no­ti­fied be­fore its pro­mul­ga­tion will be deemed to be sanc­tu­ar­ies,” says M K Ran­jitsinh, re­tired gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial who was the prin­ci­pal au­thor of the Act. Yet, none of the gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments pub­lished af­ter 1972 men­tion Bami­aburu and Son­gra sanc­tu­ar­ies. In­for­ma­tion about the two sanc­tu­ar­ies is so sketchy that ex­perts to­day are not even able to pin­point their ex­act lo­ca­tions. “If they are not there any­more, then it is a clear case of ob­fus­ca­tion,” says Ran­jitsinh.

The third sanc­tu­ary, Sasangda

buru, was last men­tioned in the work­ing plan of the Saranda for­est di­vi­sion for 1976-77 to 1995-97. In the work­ing plan, it was named Saranda, or Sasangda Game Sanc­tu­ary, and said to be spread over 314 sq km. It adds that the sanc­tu­ary was no­ti­fied in Fe­bru­ary 1968 and cov­ers for­est ar­eas of Tholk­a­bad (10,244 ha), Karam­pada (4,444 ha), Ko­dal­ibad (2,224 ha), Ta­gooda (56 ha), Karu­jagdaburu (34 ha), Samta (4,907 ha) and Tir­il­posi (9,586 ha).

“We tried lo­cat­ing the no­ti­fi­ca­tion doc­u­ments for the three sanc­tu­ar­ies three to four years ago, but could not find them,” ad­mits Sashi Nand­ke­ol­yar, prin­ci­pal chief con­ser­va­tor of forests, Jhark­hand.

This is quite un­usual be­cause af­ter the 1972 Act, the other Bi­har sanc­tu­ar­ies were in­creased in size and then re-no­ti­fied, says Raza Kazmi, a Jhark­hand-based wildlife re­searcher. “The Saranda work­ing plan was not re­drawn af­ter 1997 be­cause most min­ing leases, in­clud­ing those be­long­ing to the Steel Au­thor­ity In­dian Lim­ited (SAIL), had to be re­newed around the 2000s,” says R K Singh of non-profit Le­gal Ini­tia­tive for For­est and En­vi­ron­ment. Karam­pada, where the sanc­tu­ary was sup­posed to be, has been hol­lowed out by SAIL’S 879 ha iron ore mine. The area to­day has nu­mer­ous nar­row streams of red waste wa­ter from the mine which zigzag through what oth­er­wise would have been a pris­tine for­est. A 2016 study by the Wildlife In­sti­tute of In­dia found that plant species in the Saranda for­est had come down to just 87, from over 300 species ear­lier. They also could not spot a sin­gle ele­phant, even though 2010 cen­sus recorded 253 ele­phants.

SOURCE OF STEEL

His­tor­i­cally, Saranda mines have been feed­ing In­dia’s very first in­dus­trial towns like Bokaro Steel City in Jhark­hand and Rourkela in Odisha. The gov­ern­ment’s fo­cus on heavy in­dus­tries—in­clud­ing steel—from the Sec­ond Five Year Plan (1956-61) and the In­dus­trial Pol­icy of 1956 fur­ther threat­ened the sanc­tu­ar­ies. This ex­plains why Saranda’s land­scape was bru­tally mu­ti­lated even as sev­eral gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments warned against it. The 1965 IBWL report, for ex­am­ple, says ele­phants have

ben­e­fited from the Sasangdabu­ru sanc­tu­ary, which can be­come one of the coun­try’s best sanc­tu­ary with proper man­age­ment. “But the whole area has been leased out to the Na­tional Min­er­als De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion for the ex­trac­tion and ex­port of iron ore. This has played havoc with the sanc­tu­ary, and for all prac­ti­cal pur­poses it can be writ­ten off,” it adds.

The 1997 work­ing plan was no dif­fer­ent. “Saranda Game Sanc­tu­ary, as men­tioned in the pre­ced­ing plan, has al­most lost its ex­is­tence due to the com­ing up of two mas­sive mines iron ore min­ing projects, namely, Kiriburu and Maghe­hatuburu. These two projects have badly dis­turbed the habi­tat of wild an­i­mals in this lo­cal­ity.” The im­pact of min­ing is also clear from the State of For­est Re­ports re­leased by FSI. Be­tween 2001 and 2019, the for­est cover in West Singh­bum dis­trict plum­meted by 361 sq km to 3,366 sq km. The dis­trict also has the highest rate of land degra­da­tion in Jhark­hand and hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties such as min­ing are to be blamed, sug­gests the lat­est De­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion and Land Degra­da­tion At­las cre­ated by In­dian Space Re­search Or­gan­i­sa­tion in 2016.

BUSI­NESS OF MIN­ING

Ex­perts rue that ac­quir­ing land for min­ing ac­tiv­ity would have been dif­fi­cult had the gov­ern­ment not elim­i­nated the three sanc­tu­ar­ies. While the first min­ing leases in Saranda were given in the 1950s, the un­fet­tered jump in leases would have been checked be­cause of later day court or­ders. “On Fe­bru­ary 14, 2000, the Supreme Court in T N Go­davar­man case ob­served that even a fallen leaf and grass can­not be ex­tracted from any sanc­tu­ary if the ac­tiv­ity is not men­tioned in the ap­proved man­age­ment plan of a sanc­tu­ary,” says Singh. On Au­gust 4, 2006, the apex court ruled that min­ing should not be al­lowed within one km from the bound­ary of a sanc­tu­ary. On De­cem­ber 4, 2006, it ob­served that all projects lo­cated within 10 km from the bound­ary of a sanc­tu­ary will need per­mis­sions from the Na­tional Board for Wildlife (which re­placed IBWL in 2003) if its eco-sen­si­tive zone is not no­ti­fied un­der the En­vi­ron­ment Pro­tec­tion Act, 1986. “This means all ex­ist­ing mines within 10 km of the Sasangdabu­ru are tech­ni­cally il­le­gal as they do not have per­mis­sions,” says Singh.

Min­ing is a huge money churn­ing busi­ness for Jhark­hand, which con­trib­uted nearly 11 per cent of In­dia’s iron ore pro­duc­tion in Jan­uary 2019, as per the In­dian Bureau of Mines in­ven­tory. The share was sub­stan­tially higher till 2013 when the Cen­tre ap­pointed the Jus­tice Shah Com­mit­tee to look into il­le­gal min­ing. The com­mit­tee report in 2014 led to the clos­ing of sev­eral

WE TRIED LO­CAT­ING THE NO­TI­FI­CA­TION DOC­U­MENTS FOR THE THREE JHARK­HAND SANC­TU­AR­IES SOME YEARS BACK, BUT COULD NOT FIND THEM SASHI NAND­KE­OL­YAR, PRIN­CI­PAL CHIEF CON­SER­VA­TOR OF FORESTS, JHARK­HAND

WILDLIFE PRO­TEC­TION ACT, 1972, SAYS SANC­TU­AR­IES NO­TI­FIED BE­FORE THE ACT WILL RE­MAIN AS SANC­TU­AR­IES. IF THEY ARE NOT, THEN IT IS A CLEAR CASE OF OB­FUS­CA­TION M K RAN­JITSINH, RE­TIRED GOV­ERN­MENT OF­FI­CIAL WHO WAS PRIN­CI­PAL AUTHOUR OF THE ACT

il­le­gal mines in the area. Act­ing on its rec­om­men­da­tion, the Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment, For­est and Climate Change (MEFCC) in 2014 stopped giv­ing fresh min­ing clear­ances in Saranda till the Man­age­ment Plan for Sus­tain­able Min­ing (MPSM) was cre­ated. The min­istry re­leased MPSM in June 2018, un­der which it de­clared nearly 80 per cent of the for­est (43,000 ha) as no­min­ing zone. Just two months later, the state gov­ern­ment started putting pres­sure on the Union min­istry to re­voke the no-min­ing zone be­cause sev­eral com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing SAIL, JSW Group and Vedanta, have min­ing in­ter­ests in the area. As a re­sult, the Cen­tre has formed a com­mit­tee with ex­perts from the In­dian Coun­cil of Forestry Re­search and Ed­u­ca­tion, In­dian In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gyKharag­pur and In­dian School of Mines-Dhan­bad to re­assess MPSM. “The re­source curse of Saranda has en­gulfed three wildlife sanc­tu­ar­ies. It now threat­ens the en­tire forests,” says Singh.

Saranda’s land­scape is bru­tally mu­ti­lated due to in­dis­crim­i­nate min­ing

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