Nature at Stake
It wasn’t long ago when we were rejoicing the comeback of nature as an effect of this lockdown. Animals had started to come out, trees and plants were flourishing and the pollution levels were going down. But little did we know that this lockdown would soon open our eyes to the bureaucratic negligence towards the environment and the society in the name of development.
As the nation went into lockdown, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) proposed the draft EIA notification 2020 that does away with the process of public hearing for ‘strategic projects’ and eases the process of expansion of projects without environmental clearance and public consultation. Fast track and online clearances of projects have become the norm amidst the lockdown. But what this means is that experts and panels aren’t able to go for field visits to inspect the current situation of the project area concerned and neither are they able to get together to discuss the impact and repercussions of the proposed projects. Further, online meetings just aren’t as efficient as they give them very less time to appraise individual projects. Clearances after clearances are given by the MoEFCC despite outrage by several conservationists and activists to halt things until the pandemic situation eases, the repercussions of which we are seeing every other day.
Here are a few among the endless issues that require our attention and action on priority basis.
°Baghjan Fire Breakout
An Oil India Limited (OIL) gas well at the Baghjan oil field in Assam’s Tinsukia district caught fire on June 9, 2020 after spewing gas uncontrollably for almost two weeks. The impact of the incident has been massive. After the blowout, residents of the area were shifted in huge numbers to relief camps and nearby villages after complaints of dizziness and breathlessness and then the fire caused further damage. An estimated 8,000 people have had to be evacuated from their homes.
The site of incident is very close to the protected Dibru Saikhowa National Park and Maguri Beel wetlands which are ecologically rich areas home to several species of migratory birds, wildlife and aquatic life like the Hoolock Gibbon, Gangetic river dolphin, clouded leopard, Chinese pangolin and more. The fire has completely destroyed the wetland and impacted the biodiversity of the area. Apart from earlier controversies of the well being situated in an eco-sensitive zone, just weeks before the blowout the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) provided clearance to Oil India Limited for further drilling and testing inside the Dibru Saikhowa National Park.
What you can do:
- To join the fight and save DSNP, here is a petition you can sign by Change.org
- You can also tweet to MoEFCC, Prakash Javadekar, National Board of Wildlife and CM of Assam expressing your opposition to the clearance
°Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary
Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary in Tamil Nadu is a protected area that is home to more than 40,000 species of migratory birds that visit the sanctuary every year. Being the oldest water bird sanctuary, it also adds to the pride of the state.
The Tamil Nadu government proposed to reduce the Sanctuary by 40% for commercial purposes and the proposal has been forwarded to the National Board for Wildlife for approval. One of the key parties to benefit from this decision is Sun Pharmaceuticals. Sun Pharmaceuticals is an Indian multinational Pharmaceutical company that has been operating in the area of the sanctuary that comes under the Eco-Sensitive Zone which is not allowed. Now the state is trying to reduce the protected area so the project can be legalized, false justification being given that the land is barren with zero bird activity.
After facing huge uproar against the proposal from the public, the Tamil Nadu Forest Department has now released a statement denying the proposal and says that the protected five-kilometre radius area will continue to remain as-is.
What you can do:
- Sign this petition
- Join the Twitter campaign with the hashtags #SaveVedanthangal and #saveprideoftamilnadu and tag @CMOTamilNadu @KCKaruppananofl @mkstalin and @PrakashJavdekar
- Write to the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Edappadi Palanisami and the National Board for Wildlife
- Email bodies can be accessed from letindiabreathe.in, and also at @a_naturalists_column’s link in bio in Instagram
°Mollem National Park
Goa’s Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park are in grave danger after three linear infrastructure projects have recently been approved by the MoEFCC. 170 hectares of the protected forests will be cleared for highway expansion, railway-line doubling and laying a power transmission line. These projects apart from disturbing and damaging the flora and fauna of the area will also fragment the habitat and hamper the movement of wildlife living in and around the forest, leading to a spike in animal mortality. Felling of trees in the name of development is definitely not acceptable.
Online campaigns have been initiated by environmental activists to spread awareness on the issue and gain more traction so the concerned can be forced to take back their steps of destruction.
°Dehing-Patkai Elephant Reserve
Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary located in the Dibrugarh and Tinsukhia districts of Assam, along with other parts of the Dehing Patkai Rainforest fall under the Dehing-Patkai Elephant reserve, known for their importance as a habitat for elephants. This lowland rainforest area houses diverse plant and animal species like elephants, tigers, leopards, jungle cats, flying squirrels, sambhar deer, slow loris and more.
Recently, the National Board for Wildlife gave a nod to a proposal for the usage of 98.59 hectares of land belonging to this reserve for extraction of coal by Coal India Limited. CIL has been illegally mining in the region since their lease expired in 2012. And, in the process the forest land has been damaged in several ways. After the uproar by activists on saving the reserve, CIL has currently halted its operations. However, the fight continues. The aim is to declare the entire Dehing Patkai Rainforest as a wildlife sanctuary, stop open-cast coal mining and ensure complete restoration of affected places.
A 3097 MW Hydroelectric power project in Dibang Valley, a joint venture by Jindal Power Ltd and Hydro Power Development Corporation of Arunachal Pradesh, is awaiting clearance from India’s Forest Advisory Committee. The project will lead to a loss of 2,70,000 old trees from the biodiverse forests of Dibang Valley. This global biodiversity hotspot houses 555 species of birds, 50 mammals, 117 types of wild orchids and 90 species of amphibians and reptiles as reported so far. These community-owned- forests are also habitat to a genetically unique population of wild tigers, which weren’t acknowledged by a flawed report submitted by the Wildlife Institute of India to the Forest Advisory Committee. A green flag to this project will also mean a threat to the native Idu Mishmi culture which has played a prominent role in keeping the ecological balance of the area intact. Talking about economic feasibility, the CEO of Jindal Power himself has stated that the venture is risky and they will have to struggle to find long term buyers.
In its last meeting, the Forest Advisory Committee deferred its decision on the project and requested inputs from the Ministry of Power, National Tiger Conservation Authority and the Wildlife Division of Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
°Sharvathi Ltm Wildlife Sanctuary
The Karnataka Power Corporation Limited (KPCL) has been granted permission for a survey and geo-technical investigation to build a 2000-MW Underground Pumped Storage Hydroelectric Project in the midst of the Sharavathi LTM Wildlife Sanctuary. The survey will involve drilling and felling of trees which will cause huge ecological damage to the sanctuary and also lead to fragmentation of the habitat of the species living there. It was only in the June of 2019 that the Sanctuary was renamed as Sharavathi LTM (Lion-Tailed Macaque) Wildlife Sanctuary after inclusion of Aghanashini LTM Conservation Reserve under the sanctuary to protect the habitat of the endangered LTMs. Apart from that, the river basin is also home to the rich flora of herbs, shrubs and climbers and fauna like the leopard, spotted deer, civet cat, sloth bear, etc., myristica swamps being a special feature.
It is reported that a few pressure groups are trying to push for denotification of the areas added earlier to the sanctuary thereby reducing its boundaries. If accepted, this sanctuary with its rich tropical forests and vast biodiversity will stand at the verge of extinction.
What you can do:
- Make yourself aware by connecting with people from the region
- Spread the word so the opposition reaches the right ears
- Help in getting this issue the attention it deserves
°Hubbali-Ankola Railway Line
The Karnataka State Board of Wildlife had cleared the controversial Hubbali-Ankola Railway line project on March 20, 2020 despite strong opposition. This project would entail felling of nearly 2 lakh trees and devastate the habitat of multiple species living in and around Kali Tiger Reserve and Bedthi Conservation Reserve in the Western Ghats. This railway line will supposedly be used only for coal transportation from nearby mines which will also get redundant after a while. Hence the intention of clearance is merely for corporate gains and not developmental.
Taking into consideration the opposition and harmful impacts of the project, the Karnataka High Court has now stayed the decision of the State Board of Wildlife and has also stated that no further decisions be taken on the basis of the March 20 meeting.
Athirappilly falls, situated in Thrissur District in Kerala is the largest waterfall in Kerala, famous for its appearances in Indian Cinema, one of them being Baahubali. The Kerala government decided to renew a No-Objection Certificate to the Athirappilly hydroelectric project. This proposal by the Karnataka State Electricity Board involves construction of a dam across the Chalakudy River to generate 163 MW of power. This will lead to the alteration of the ecology of the river systems and also cause water shortage in the villages downstream. About 178 hectares of the evergreen forests, would be destroyed because of the project. The forest is home to several rare and endangered birds, plants and animal species; aquatic and terrestrial like South Indian hornbills, Lion-tailed macaques, Cane turtles, Asiatic elephants, etc.. The livelihood of the indigenous Kadar Tribal Community along with the residents of Pokkalapara and Vazhachal regions will be destroyed in the course of the project.
The state government is bent on implementation of the project despite strong opposition from conservationists and activists.
The list doesn’t end with these. While we cannot possibly champion for all causes at once, we can make sure we do our part one step at a time.
Additional credits to Cara Tejpal who has been a constant mentor and guide in bringing this piece together. Cara is one among the many warriors who have been on the forefront, fighting for the cause of environment.
All images used in this article belong rightfully to their original owners.
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