In what appears to be a move fraught with peril, the Odisha Government has proposed to de-notify at least 159 sq km from Satkosia Gorge Sanctuary which forms a large part of the Satkosia Tiger Reserve.
A low-density tiger reserve, Satkosia is under heavy pressure from human habitations from within and also those in the fringe of the sanctuary area. Now the State Wildlife Wing has proposed to de-notify villages inside the sanctuary which could spell disaster for the prime tiger habitat.
The proposal of the Wildlife Wing was supposed to be presented before the State Board for Wildlife on November 26 but the meeting was postponed indefinitely.
As per the plan, the State Government wants to revise the sanctuary area from 795.52 sq km to 636.495 sq km which appears to be a move with more political considerations than anything else.
The Wildlife Wing’s proposal notes the total reserve forest area at 586.92 sq km apart from 11.86 sq km as demarcated protected forest (DPF). The area of Mahanadi River is measured at 32.75 sq km. What’s, however, interesting is that the proposal takes note of just 11 revenue villages within the sanctuary limits which are due for relocation as part of the sanctuary - one in Angul, four in Boudh and six in Nayagarh district, their combined area measured at 4.96 sq km.
There is more to it than meets the eye though. The sanctuary management plan of Satkosia mentions 99 revenue villages - 32 in Angul, 21 in Cuttack, 26 in Nayagarh and 20 in Boudh district - within Satkosia Gorge Sanctuary.
The Government appears to have planned to de-notify these villages from the sanctuary which can have serious consequences on the tiger habitat as it will create non-protected “islands” where the norms of the sanctuary will not apply.
Experts feel that the State Wildlife Wing, instead of consolidating and strengthening the area of the tiger reserve, is de-notifying a major chunk of it in order to appease local political pressure groups. This will create islands of villages within the reserve where the management will have very little control and regulation. This will also encourage illegal activities such as poaching and timber felling and compound the already acute anthropogenic pressure on the reserve.
“This move is completely against the objectives of tiger conservation. By their own admission, there are almost no tigers left in the reserve which is nothing short of a State shame. Instead of taking corrective measures and reversing the decline of tigers in Satkosia, it is taking extremely damaging steps such as this. Such an attitude is ominous for its forests and wildlife, particularly tigers,” said wildlife conservationist Aditya Panda.
The reduction of the sanctuary area will, however, require clearance from the National Board for Wildlife, National Tiger Conservation Authority as well as approval of the Supreme Court.