India Today


- By Rahul Noronha

The Madhya Pradesh government has adopted a peculiar approach to the economics versus ecology debate in the context of the National Chambal Sanctuary. Conceding that illegal sand mining has been happening in parts of the riverine sanctuary, the government believes that denotifyin­g certain sections to enable the mining to be done legally would help in protecting the rest of the sanctuary. Located at a trijunctio­n of three states—MP, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh—the 435-km-long sanctuary extends 1 km each on both sides from the midpoint of the river Chambal and covers an area of 5,400 sq. km. It is a special ecological niche, being home to a variety of rare aquatic fauna such as the Ganges riverine dolphin, the red-crowned roof turtle and the

gharial, besides a large number of migratory birds that visit in winter. The sanctuary, with one of the most pristine major rivers of north India as its beating heart, was first notified in 1978 on the MP side, with UP and Rajasthan following up.

That history turned a bit in December 2021, when the MP government moved a proposal to denotify 292 hectares (2.92 sq. km) of the sanctuary at five sites in the state—two each in Morena and Sheopur districts and one in Bhind. Responding to the proposal submitted to the Centre, the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), including former Indian Forest Service officer H.S. Singh and National Tiger Conservati­on Authority secretary S.P. Yadav, toured the sites proposed for denotifica­tion in the latter half of June this year. “I can’t say anything about the standing committee’s decision on this until the report is finalised,” says Singh.

Though this is not the first time a case has been made out to denotify parts of the sanctuary, the rationale behind the latest proposal—the state government’s acceptance of the ground realities vis-àvis illegal sand mining—makes it interestin­g. “There is a local demand for sand, which will have to be met from somewhere. It is best to denotify some areas to enable legal mining there, so that the rest of the sanctuary can be effectivel­y protected,” says J.S. Chauhan, chief wildlife warden, MP. In other words, the government hopes that once certain areas are removed from the sanctuary and made available for legal harvesting of river sand, the areas that remain within the sanctuary would remain unmolested. There’s another assumption behind this hope: that the entire sand mining currently happening illegally in these areas is for meeting the needs of the local population and not the greed of sand miners.

Not everyone agrees with this rationale, of course. Among the critics is former NBWL member Prerna Bindra. “If the government cannot control a crime, the answer lies not in legalising it but in more focused, vigorous efforts to curb it. I hope this does not portend that the government will follow the same logic for other crimes,” says Bindra. Pointing out that the National Chambal Sanctuary is home to at least three endangered species and the river banks serve as a

nesting ground for the Indian skimmer, a bird also known as the Indian scissors-bill, as well as the famous gharial, the former NBWL member says sand mining drasticall­y reduces the flow of water in the river, endangerin­g ecological viability, besides causing river bank erosion.

The Rajasthan government, which administer­s its side of the sanctuary on the west of MP’s Morena and Sheopur districts, and the UP government which administer­s the eastern leg, have made no proposal for denotifica­tion even though illegal mining affects all three states. Meanwhile, on June 3, a bench of the Supreme Court reiterated that no mining activity is allowed in a sanctuary or a national park. It also said that the February 2011 notificati­on on activities allowed and proscribed within the 1 km eco-sensitive zone around sanctuarie­s and national parks must be adhered to.

Besides parts of the National Chambal Sanctuary, the MP government has also proposed denotifica­tion of parts of the Sailana and Sardarpur sanctuarie­s that are home to the Lesser Florican. The process of denotifica­tion has been completed for the entire Karera Sanctuary in Shivpuri district, which was notified in the 1980s for protecting the Great Indian Bustard. It remains to be seen whether the rationale of addressing illegal mining by denotifyin­g parts of the National Chambal Sanctuary passes muster with the NBWL. ■


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The Chambal is a key nesting site for the endangered Indian Skimmer (6,000 left)
LAST OF THE SKIMMERS? The Chambal is a key nesting site for the endangered Indian Skimmer (6,000 left)

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