Kolkata: Authorities have dropped plans to set up two new elephant reserves in eastern India, enraging conservationists who say the decision threatens wildlife and is aimed at helping mining firms operate in the area.
Last year, the government approved two new reserves in the mineral-rich areas of Orissa aimed at strengthening the conservation of elephants and other wildlife such as tigers, leopards, deer and hundreds of species of rare reptiles. But conservationists claim the plans have been dropped to ease the way for big steel investors such as Vedanta Resources Plc., JSW Steel Ltd and ArcelorMittal to mine for iron ore, manganese
Losing out: A herd of wild elephants near Guwahati, Assam. The largest population of the species is in the neighbouring state of Orissa.
“Multinationals can now carry out mining easily and get all environmental clearances without any impact study on wildlife at all,” said Biswajit Mohanty of the Wildlife Society of Orissa. Government officials denied the charge.
“The area for the two proposed elephant reserves was too big and that was why we withdrew the proposals,” said P.N. Padhi, a senior official in Orissa’s forest and environment department. “The presence of mines in these areas is only a coincidence. We are quite serious about wildlife conservation.”
The two reserves - one in the northern area of Baitarani and the other in the south, including the Niyamgiri hills area - would?have?covered?a total area of about 15,000 sq. km. Conservationists said the reserves would have given extra protection to the large mammals who are increasingly losing their habitat because of deforestation and increasing industrial development.
India, which was home to nearly 50,000 elephants a century ago, now just has a little more than 21,000 of these mammals. Experts say only 20% of India’s landmass is forests and just 120,000 sq. km—less than 4% of the country—of these forests are suitable for elephant habitats.
“Nearly 1,900 elephants roam the jungles of Orissa, making it the biggest population in eastern India, so securing the elephant corridor is very important,” said Shakti Ranjan Banerjee of the Wildlife Protection Society of India.