Panel wants jumbo corridors in its ambit
Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times New Delhi, May 26, 2013

India's elephant and tiger corridors are under stress as the government is allowing mining activity there forcing the independent members of an environment ministry's wildlife committee asking the government to bring them under their regulation.

The Standing Committee of the National Board of Wildlife is a statutory body headed by environment minister to clear all projects in and around wildlife areas. But, the committee is not able to decide on projects in wildlife corridors as the state governments having liberty to de-notify an elephant area through executive order. This has resulted in mining being allowed in forest areas considered as corridors for the big animals to move from one green zone to another.

The issue was raised at a recent committee meeting by non-official members, who urged environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan to bring all such corridors under its ambit for regulation.

A committee member MD Madhusudan said the elephant reserves are created through an executive order and can be de-notified through another executive order, a major legal hurdle in regulation. The Wildlife Trust of India has identified many elephant corridors but the state governments have failed to notify them fearing it would impose restrictions on developmental work.

"There is a need to give a legal status to these reserves and the regulatory role should be given to the National Board for Wildlife," the minutes of the committee meeting quoted Madhusudan as saying.

Another member Prerna Bindra said that all elephant and tiger corridors should be declared as eco-sensitive zones so that the committee can deliberate on any projects proposed there. She also said that there has been an alarming rate of diversion of key wildlife habitats in recent past for projects.

The ministry's Forest Advisory Committee (FAC), mandated to allow diversion of forests for projects, had cleared mining in both elephant and tiger corridors on the ground that they were not notified as wildlife areas. Some of the projects cleared were in naxal affected areas in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.

"Diversion of forest land in elephant reserves, elephant and tiger corridors that are identified and demarcated by the state government and central government should immediately be brought under the purview of the standing committee," she said.

Kishore Rithe, who represented Satpuda Foundation, said the wildlife corridors are defined under the Wildlife Protection Act and therefore, they should get the status of ecologically sensitive areas automatically.

Other members of the committee expressed their shock at the pace India was losing its wildlife corridors just because they were not notified deliberately by the state governments.