Hindustan Times (Ranchi)
Hasdeo Arand forest to be declared elephant reserve
RAIPUR: The state government will develop an elephant reserve to preserve the pristine Hasdeo Arand forest, known for its high quality coal reserves and to reduce human-animal conflict, state government officials said.
The officials said the decision could mean no mining in these coal reserves except the operational ones.
Hasdeo Arand, an unbroken dense forest, was declared a no-go zone for coal mining by then environment minister Jairam Ramesh in 2010, which was later scrapped by a group of ministers headed by then finance minister Pranab Mukherjee.
Chief minister Bhupesh Bhagel’s announcement last week to declare Lemru (in Korba district) as an elephant reserve has triggered protests with local tribals fearing displacement.
On Tuesday, the villagers staged a protest at the Korba district collector’s office claiming that they will be displaced from their ancestral land.
Chhattisgarh’s principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF), Rakesh Chaturvedi, allayed their fears saying consent of the villagers will be taken before declaring Lemru forests as an elephant reserve. “We will ask each and every villager and their consent will be taken. The tribals will be displaced only if they agree,” said Chaturvedi, informing that there would be a total of 140 villages in the proposed elephant reserve.
An official in the chief minister’s secretariat familiar with the development said an area of 1,995.48 square kilometre falling in four forest divisions — Korba, Kathghora, Surajpur and Dharamjaigarh — will be declared as an elephant reserve.
“A proposal will soon be submitted for cabinet approval,” the official said. “The land earmarked by the BJP government in 2007 was 450 square kilometre. We have expanded it to 1,995.48 square kilometre.”
Another official at the CM’s secretariat said the proposed elephant reserve will include coal mining area in Hasdeo Arand forest and added that no operational mines will be included in the Lemru Elephant Reserve (LER).
› A proposal will soon be submitted for cabinet approval. The land earmarked by the BJP govt in 2007 was 450 square kilometre. We have expanded it to 1,995.48 square kilometre. OFFICIAL, in chief minister’s office
“There are two operational coal mines in this region and we are not including them in the proposed reserve. There are about 19 coal deposits in LER about which the cabinet will take a decision in due course,” the second official said.
The Parsa coal mines, where Adani has got permission to mine under the Mine Developer and Operator (MDO) Scheme, also falls in Hasdeo Arand.
Activists believe that if 1,995 square kilometre of land is notified by the government as an elephant reserve, then all the coal blocks in the area cannot be operationalised.
“If LER is of 1995 square kilometre then forests around 19 coal deposits will be preserved. The BJP government in 2007 had proposed this reserve in which only nine coal mining areas were falling. The decision will not only help improve the elephant count but will also help in conserving the entire Hasdeo Arand forest,” Alok Shukla, president of Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan.
Shukla said they wanted areas where coal mining is proposed such as Parsa, Paturia Giddamudi, Morga Madanpur should also be included in its buffer zone of the reserve. “Only then the forest biodiversity and Minimata Bango barrage (an important water body for animals) of Hasdeo will be preserved,” he said.
Welcoming the decision, Raipur based elephant expert, DS Malya, said it will help in preserving the pristine forest from coal mining and human interference. “This will also reduce human–elephant conflict. I hope that the government stands by its decision,” he said.
The official said the elephant reserve is being developed as per the recommendations of the centrally constituted Special HighPower Technical Committee (SHPTC), which suggested measures such as abundance of water, food and corridors for the elephant population to thrive.
“The move will minimize the number of human-elephant conflicts, destruction of properties, loss of human lives caused due to wild elephants,” the official said.
The human-elephant conflict claimed 65 human lives and resulted in the death of 14 elephants in the last five years.
The state government has distributed ₹75 crore as compensation to victim families for loss of human lives, crop damage, loss of property etc.
The state has 254 elephants, according to the last elephant census done in 2018.
At present, there are two national parks, three tiger reserves, eight sanctuaries and one biosphere reserve covering 11,310.977 sqkm, which is 8.36% of the state’s total geographical area and 18.92 % of the state’s total forest area of 59,772 sqkm.