The Odisha Government on Tuesday gave its official stamp of approval to de-notify 159 sq km from Satkosia Gorge Sanctuary which forms a large part of the Satkosia Tiger Reserve. The move to reduce the area could prove disastrous for the tiger habitat.
The State Board for Wildlife (SBWL), in its meeting chaired by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, approved the proposal of reducing the sanctuary area from 795.52 sq km to 636.495 sq km.
A low-density tiger reserve, Satkosia is under severe pressure from human habitations and consequent interference, from within as well as those in the fringe. Hence, the Government’s move of de-notifying a large chunk is unlikely to solve the problem as Satkosia’s tiger count has been depleting which necessitated strengthening of conservation measures to reverse the trend.
As many as 104 villages which are located in the 159 sq km will be denotified if the SBWL’s approval is vetted by the National Board of Wildlife, National Tiger Conservation Authority and Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court.
This approval by the State Wild Life Board could prove detrimental for the tiger habitat as it is likely to create non-protected islands within the habitat since villages will continue to be where they are but will just be struck off the map of sanctuary area. Hence the stricter norms of a wildlife sanctuary will not apply to them.
The Board devoted most of its time to accord wildlife clearance for four industrial and infrastructure projects - Bangur underground chromite mines, Phase II expansion of Dhamra Port Company Ltd, thermal power plant project by KVK Neelachal and a 1.5 MTPA cement grinding project.
Of the nine items on its agenda, four dealt with different projects, one was about Satkosia’s area reduction, while another was about declaration of Eco Sensitive Zones (ESZ). Interestingly, despite Supreme Court’s directive, the Government has not been able to declare any of the 16 ESZs as yet but the matter was presented before the Board for its consideration. During meeting, Forest and Environment Minister Bijayshree Routray introduced the subject of growing man-elephant conflict in the State and the menace of poaching though it was not part of the agenda. Matters relating to tiger corridor and arms for forest field staff were also discussed.
The SBWL was first constituted in September 2003 for a period of two years. The tenure of the Board expired on September 29, 2005 and it was reconstituted on October 16, 2007. During that two-year period, the Board’s functioning was nil. The Board met only twice during the period 2003-11 as against the required 16 meetings as stipulated in the Act. Today was the third meeting of the board.