Mumbai: Leading conservation groups and experts on Friday called on the Union Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Climate Change and Ministry of Railways to protect the Sanjay-Dubri Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh realigning the existing Katni-Singrauli rail corridor, which has led to at least 39 wildlife deaths since 2010, including that of a mother tigress last month.
The letter, also addressed to senior officials of Madhya Pradesh Forest Department, was signed by organizations including Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Satpuda Foundation, Corbett Foundation, Conservation Action Trust, Sanctuary Nature Foundation, Tiger Research and Conservation. Trust, BAAVAN and Nature Conservation Society (Amravati).
It has also been endorsed by some of India’s leading wildlife conservation voices including MK Ranjitsingh, Asad Rahmani, AJT Johnsingh, Raghu Chundawat, Divyabhanusinh Chavda, Nirmal Ghosh and Naveen Pandey.
The letter expresses concern over the dual track railway line project, which is to be executed by the Jabalpur Division of the Western Central Railway, and for which clearance of forest and wildlife is still awaited. The expansion involves the cutting of 14,187 trees in a linear fashion, and experts fear the work will create a permanent barrier for wildlife seeking to cross the track.
The project was reviewed by the Madhya Pradesh State Wildlife Board and also referred to the National Tiger Conservation Authority, which set up a committee to review the project’s impact on biodiversity. At present, the railway line crosses critical tiger habitat for about 27.5 km, occupying about 67 hectares of land.
“The outcome will be decided by the National Wildlife Council. Before the matter can be considered, we need to draw their attention to the obvious drawbacks of the project, which will only increase rail traffic through a key tiger habitat. The Union Ministry of Environment guidelines on linear intrusions into forest areas make it clear that such projects should be avoided,” said Kishor Rithe, Founder of the Satpuda Foundation.
The Sanjay-Dubri Tiger Reserve (SDTR) is located in the Sidhi district of Madhya Pradesh and covers an area of 1674.5 km2, which includes the Sanjay National Park and the Dubri Wildlife Sanctuary. The core area of the reserve covers 812.6 km2, while the forested buffer zone of Sidhi and Shahdol districts covers approximately 862 km2. The reserve also hosts key wildlife corridors between Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in the west, Guru Ghasidas National Park in Chhattisgarh in the south and Palamau Tiger Reserve in Jharkhand in the east.
Contacted for comment, Jasbir Singh Chauhan, Chief Wildlife Warden of Madhya Pradesh, said: “The ecological importance of this area for tigers and other wildlife is evident. Our position is that the track should be realigned which would also help to serve the villages and settlements around the park. We hope the NTCA committee will make efforts to protect the area.
According to data from the forest department, between January and December 2020, the presence of tigers and leopards was recorded 315 times in the neighboring forest massifs of Dubri and Bastua, inside the limits of the SDTR. The presence of elephants has also been recorded on both sides of the railway line.
“The Bandhavgarh-SDTR-Guru Ghasidas landscape together constitutes 3,607 sq km and is home to 141 tigers…(It) has the potential to accommodate the growing tiger population of central India,” the letter reads, a copy of which is with Hindustan Times.
“Scientific investigation has established that tigers in central India have a high genetic diversity which is mainly due to the functionality of existing wildlife corridors. The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and Wildlife Institute of India (WII) have also underlined the importance of this landscape in the report “All India Tiger Estimate 2018. Moreover, it is the only area north of the Narmada River where the gaur, the largest cattle in India, is found”, he added.