Nagpur: it’s raining conservation reserves (CR) in Maharashtra, but does this solve the purpose of wildlife conservation and management, especially when it has a lower protection status than national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
In Maharashtra, there are 23 RCs notified so far with an area of 1,751 km². These include 12 new CRs declared by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray during the 18th meeting of the Maharashtra State Wildlife Board (MSWBL) held on June 6.
However, according to the agenda items, in addition to the existing 23 RCs, another 18 are proposed to be declared at the next meeting of the MSWBL to be held soon. This will bring the number of CRs to 41, thus making the state the highest number of CRs in the country.
Of the 25 CRs, 20 have been declared by the MVA government in the last 2.5 years. The state also declared five new shrines with an area of over 647 km². But these sanctuaries include two CRs – Kolamarka and Muktai-Bhavani – which have recently been transformed into wildlife sanctuaries.
The provision for declaration of CR is given under Section 36A of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972. The fundamental objective of an RC is to protect the landscape, flora and fauna and their habitat which are adjacent to the national park and sanctuaries and those areas which connect one protected area (PA) to another.
Forestry officials say that management interventions such as habitat management, enhanced protective measures, soil and moisture conservation works, subsistence activities, etc. must be carried out in accordance with the approved CR management plan (CRMP).
However, these claims are only an eyewash. Even after the notification of the first three RCs in 2008 (Bhorgad), 2013 (Kolamarka) and 2014 (Muktai-Bhavani), no CRMPs were prepared. Today Kolamarka and Muktai-Bhavani have been turned into wildlife sanctuaries.
“The intentions of the state behind the declaration of CRs are good, but I am not in favor of declaring tiger habitats as CRs because the tiger is a broad-spectrum species and they cannot co-exist with human settlements. Unless we declared these areas where tigers live as critical tiger habitats (CTH), the NTCA would never provide funds,” says SBWL member Kishor Rithe.
Rithe added, “We cannot declare RCs as HTCs and therefore they will not bring funds from the Centre. Barring exceptions like our CM, the state generally does not provide sufficient financial allocation to RCs. The forest department also does not hand over these CRs to the wildlife wing and therefore its management sees little positive change. So I strongly believe that at least tiger habitats should be declared sanctuaries.
Gadchiroli Wildlife Warden Uday Patel says: “CRs will not have an ESZ. Therefore, mining and other harmful projects will not be stopped. In addition, the collection of small forest products (PFM) and firewood as well as livestock grazing will also continue as usual. It is surprising that even areas with tigers like Mogarkasa, Mahendri and Muniya which are in the crucial corridors have been declared CR. Ekara in Bramhapuri is also on the agenda.
Rithe says that many CRs that have been declared are areas where tigers live and these areas should be critical tiger habitats (CTHs) of the future, but once you declare these areas as CR you cannot notify as CTH. There is also no provision for the relocation of villages to RCs and these areas will be managed by people.
Vijay Ghuge, who invented the Muniya CR in Nagpur district, says, “It has been over a year since the 67 km² area was notified, but I don’t see any difference. It is a reserve forest and the age-old practices of the inhabitants such as grazing, fishing and picnicking continue. Those who live on the outskirts see it as a project where their agricultural land will be acquired and they will be rehoused for attractive remuneration. Now I still feel like it should have been declared a sanctuary.