Large-scale mining in the buffer zone of Similipal Biosphere in Mayurbhanj district is threatening the wildlife and flora and fauna of the second largest tiger reserve in the country.
Despite crores being spent in the name of conservation and the Project Tiger, wildlife activists said illegal mining was causing irreparable damage to tiger habitat and the sanctuary’s ecosystem.
With Justice M B Shah Commission looking into the mining lease irregularities in Odisha, citing at least 38 mines of the total 41 mines in Mayurbhanj district fell in the buffer zone of the biosphere, environmentalists expressed concern over depleting ecology.
It is alleged that illegal mining is on in the protected area flouting the directive of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), which in 2002 had directed not to carry out any mining activities in the buffer zone. Similipal has critical tiger habitat, known as core area extending over 1,194.75 sq km and a buffer area of 1,555.25 sq km. As per the MoEF directive, no mining is allowed within 10 km radius of the Similipal biosphere.
Environmentalist Prasanta Kumar Padhi claimed four iron ore and manganese mines are operating in Sulei Hills close to the biosphere. “But surprisingly neither the mining officials nor the Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB) has taken any action against it. There are at least 38 mines including iron ore, manganese, quartz and quartzite inside the buffer zone,” he said.
Similipal has been included in the UNESCO’s Worldwide Network of Biosphere Reserves.
Padhi said the mining area inside it comes under the purview of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, and hence mining cannot be allowed in such a patch with good forest growth, irrespective of its ownership and classification.
Earlier protesting mining inside the biosphere, the Mayurbhanj Jungle Suraksha Mahasangha had petitioned the Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court in 2008 and the committee too had directed the MoEF to probe the matter and submit a report.