BHUBANESWAR: An expert committee of the Forest and Environment Department has recommended that the bio-diversity hotspot Mahendragiri Hills should be declared as a Biosphere Reserve but the Odisha Government, for reasons known to it, is sitting on it.
The Mahendragiri Biosphere Reserve Committee, which was constituted in November, 2011, held its last meeting in December last after which it submitted its final report recommending that a Biosphere Reserve in Mahendragiri Hill Complex should be created.
The matter was raised at the first standing committee meeting of the State Board for Wildlife (SBWL) here on Saturday where some members sought that the expert panel’s recommendation to be implemented.
Twenty-seven years back, the Centre had recommended that Mahendragiri be declared a sanctuary but the State Government has been sitting on the proposal ever since. In 1988, the Wildlife Institute of India’s (WII’s) recommendation for setting up a 50 sq km sanctuary was taken up by the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
The Ministry had also suggested that the coverage area could be expanded after establishment of a sanctuary to establish a biosphere reserve with sanctuary as its core.
Several communications followed after which the State Wildlife Advisory Board in 1995 formally recommended creation of a new sanctuary called Mahendragiri-Singhraj Wildlife Sanctuary but it remained in cold storage. The matter was taken up only in 2011 by the SBWL which then constituted the expert committee.
A haven for medicinal plants, Mahendragiri Hills, which is part of the Eastern Ghats, is home to over 600 flowering plants. The faunal diversity of the region is huge and particularly known for being a herpetofaunal hotspot.
Although the WII had suggested that the sanctuary be created over 50 sq km initially before being expanded to be a biosphere reserve, the area of the core, buffer and transitional regions proposed at present is huge.
As per the survey carried out by Odisha Space Application Centre, the core area could be spread over 42.54 sq while the buffer zone will have an area of 1577.02 sq km. The transitional area is estimated at 3095.76 sq km. The entire biosphere reserve, proposed at 4715.32 sq km, has 1,991 villages (only on Odisha side) with a total household of 1,24,741. Mahendragiri Hills is located on the contiguous pockets of Gajapati and Srikakulam districts.
As lack of conservation takes its toll on the bio-diversity hotspot, several medicinal plant and fauna species in Mahendragiri are being pushed to the brink.