New Delhi, Sept 09: It's a fight between local residents and voiceless winged birds that sit on the brink of extinction where the former clearly seems to have an edge.
The battleground is the Great Indian Bustard sanctuary located around 400 km from Mumbai and spread over the adjoining areas of Solapur and Ahmednagar districts covering over vast area of 8,496.44 square kilometre.
The sanctuary is now all set to be drastically reduced by 96 percent to merely 395 squire kilometer with the Maharashtra Government filing an affidavit in the Supreme Court for its approval in the matter.
Justifying the government's move, Rajendra Magrulkar, joint secretary in Forest ministry in Maharsthra government told media that the decision (to cut down the area) was taken keeping in mind the interest of the locals.
"In 1979 and 1985, around 8,000 square kilometre area which covers Solapur habitat was notified as forest area.
This has made the things difficult for the authorities as it has resulted in legal tussle between people and officials since no commercial activities can be allowed in the region," he said.
The official denied allegations that the move was to please mine owners who were not allowed to carry out any mining due to the restrictions imposed by the notification.
Instead, it is to 'correct' the 'wrongs as well save the birds from human-attack,' Magrulkar asserted.
The Great Indian Bustard is critically endangered species and are peculiar to the semi and semi-arid grasslands of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
Seen as an indicator of the country's grassland ecosystem, there are merely 500 birds left in the world with around 350 in India.
In Maharashtra they are found in the tropical grass plains of Nasik, Ahmednagar and Solapur sanctuary whose boundaries are proposed to be slashed.
To back its claim, the government has submitted a report from an expert committee comprised of prominent bustard expert and director of Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) Asad R Rehmani which was constituted at the behest of the Supreme Court to study the proposal's feasibility.
Noting that there is no need for such a vast area as birds were using only a patch, Rehmani favoured intensive efforts on smaller areas to revive the winged species in the area which is said to have left with merely 25 heads.
"Poaching and destruction of habitat of the birds have taken toll on their numbers. There is need for concentrated efforts on the smaller area and ensure fruitful conservation efforts."
He explained, once the areas are identified for protection of the birds, no construction activities should be allowed and instead only agricultural activities should be permitted.
The expert said the 394 square kilometre area is most crucial area where good grassland is available and hence suitable for the birds which lay eggs on the grasslands during monsoon for the safety of their chicks.
"We have identified a few pockets scattered in four talukas which are conducive to birds' survival. These are in Karmala, Barshi, Solapur and Ahmednagar to name a few where authorities can engage locals for birds conservation to further their numbers," said Rehmani.
Apart from the well-known Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps), the three species found in India are the Lesser Florican (Sypheotides indica), the Bengal Florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis) and species Houbara (Chlamydotis undulata) and are on the brink of decline.
All these are symbols of protection of grassland and hence eco-system in the country but unfortunately we are infatuated by the glamorous animals like tiger and leopards.
It's high time that serious efforts are taken to save the birds and other animals, said Rehmani who prompted the government to initiate 'Save Bustard Project' on the lines of Tiger Project.