Tiger Reserve surrounded by coal mines
Ketki Angre, Friday April 30, 2010, Tadoba
Looking at the coal mine trucks that dominate the dusty roads in Chandrapur, it's hard to tell that the main road that leads to the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve goes through this. But before you get there, the open cast mine will greet you first. We crossed the Padmapur Open-cast mine that really looks like a crater, and it's by no means an exaggeration.
The 625 square kilometre protected forest in Chandrapur called the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve is home to over fifty tigers, a sanctuary that's now shattered by the hostile coal mines that surround it on at least two sides.
Recently the Prime Minster wrote to Maharashtra asking it to notify the crucial buffer zones around tiger parks because in the Tadoba Reserve there is a need for more space.
In fact it was in the crucial tiger corridor in the Lohara village that the Adani coal mine was suppose to come up. There was large scale public protest against the mine. Bandu Dhotre who led the agitation told us, "The mine would have taken up 10,000 acres of tiger habitat. Why just the tiger, it would have taken up the habitat of other animals as well since the tiger corridor would have been completely destroyed."
Permission for the mine was finally denied by the Union Environment Minister.
Buffer zones are specially notified areas around parks or reserve forests that are meant to divide the park from areas of human pressure. Putting a law in place for buffer zones is mandatory, yet the Maharashtra state government has continued to drag its feet on it for over two years.
This division is of vital importance as by law any activity like mining or others that destroy the habitat have to be kept at least ten kilometres from the buffer zone which helps protect the parks habitat.
Without this notification the Tadoba buffer zone is not yet legally out of bounds for mines and industries.
While mining activity is Tadoba's biggest problem, over the last one year, the man-animal conflict has also escalated particularly in the eastern side of the reserve with 14 people and 4 tigers dead.
Harshawardhan Dhanwatey, President of the Tiger Research and Conservation Trust or TRACT, says, " Tadoba has 60 odd villages and 20-25 years ago, the population was not more than 100/80 people. Today the population has gone up by three times. The impact of these villages on Tadoba is quite a bit. Grazing a big problem here because there is a lot of cattle that these villages own and it is contributing to the degradation of forest. Clearing of bamboo also contributes to degradation. This lessens the forest cover which in turn lessens the forest cover.
All this also increases the possibility of encounters.
But battling the many problems is not easy given that the team that mans the forest is, itself, understaffed.
"Unfortunately the status of the forest staff is not up to the mark. At present we have 5 RFO postings out of which 3 are vacant and we want to increase the posts of RFOs as well as forest guards. Right now, there are only 34 beats. The size of each beat on an average, therefore, is very large. Almost, one beat guard has to protect an average area of 1848 hectares which is certainly a big area to protect," says Sanjay Thakre, Field Director, Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve.
It's a miracle that the tiger population has survived these man-made traps when it desperately needs man-made ecological fillip to thrive and grow.