Bhubaneshwar: Fairly recently, the Orissa Cabinet, sitting inside the air-tight conference room at the Secretariat, identified 14 elephant corridors in the state, and proposed to manage and restore the so-called corridors at an estimated cost of Rs 45 crores. We cannot find a more glaring oxymoron of pretension and a symbolic precocity that any government can feign. Mind you this is the same government which had turned down the Central offer for two more Elephant Reserves (ER) in Orissa, in 2007. The state government had neither given any reason for the denial nor made any effort to expand the geographical boundaries of the existing reserves already plagued by rapid depletion.
And all this happened in the backdrop of a very grim reality that the man-animal conflict has assumed such a proportion that hunger-struck wild pachyderms are sneaking into human habitats day in and day out in search of food. The result is – casualties on both sides.
"When mining and industries will not be shut down in corridors or key elephant habitats, what is the use of spending Rs 45 crores and the money shall be totally wasted or swindled," rued Biswajit Mohanty, a known wildlife activist.
Interestingly, a year and half back only the state had earmarked Rs 54 crores for overall elephant conservation with an impetus on corridor restoration. But not a single corridor was identified, let alone restoration. Nobody knows where the earmarked amount went – was it spent on the culture of unaccountability?
An elephant corridor is a culmination of a safe forest track, free from human activity, which the animals choose as a route to migrate from one habitat to the other. But, if the forest is not there, how on earth the government is going to `set up` the corridors? It is an amazing show of audacity by the officials to inject wisdom in hindsight to keep the boss insulated from reality and hoodwink the four crore people of Orissa, particularly when most of the corridors and habitats have either vanished or are vanishing to usher in industries and mining. Who is going to restore the corridors before shutting down the projects?
"Orissa`s wildlife is doomed as the mining and industries lobby has scuttled the conservation plans. There has been a loud scream from nature lovers… falling prey to a massive conspiracy hatched by the mining and industry lobby, the state government had withdrawn the proposal of two Elephant Reserves whereas, the Centre had approved the South Orissa and the Baitarani ERs," Mohanty alleged.
About 90 percent of Eastern India`s wild elephant population is in Orissa (about 1,862), of which there is a good number of breeding tuskers. That makes it easy for anyone to realise the importance of the conservation. But the advisers to the power-that-be seem merely tailoring a campaign to the imperatives of conservation like a bunch of puerile foretellers.
"Orissa`s wildlife has little future if the mining and industrial groups control government decision-making," fears Mohanty.
The Wildlife Conservation Strategy, 2002 was very categorical that, land falling within 10 km of the boundaries of National Parks and Sanctuaries should be notified as Ecological Sensitive Areas (ESA), under the provision of the Environment Protection Act, 1986, and acting on the directive of the Supreme Court, the Union Environment and Forest Ministry had asked the states to identify such areas in 2006.
But the homilies mouthed by the people at the Centre had been thrown to the backburner and surprisingly, in 2007, the wildlife wing of the state, an assembly of a group of senior officials, usually couched in the state capital, proposed on the contrary, suggesting a limit of 5 kms from the border of a wildlife sanctuary (Kalrapat Wildlife Sanctuary) in Kalahandi.
"This was believed to have been done under heavy pressure from the BHP-Billiton which wanted to operate the adjacent bauxite mines," Mohanty pointed out.
The other propaganda machinery went a step ahead to propose "an irrational" limit of only 2 kms as ESA around the southern, eastern and western faces of a wildlife sanctuary in Keonjhar to facilitate the operation of Chromite mines on the fringes and worse, a limit of 1 km was proposed from the landward side of the borders of the Balukhand Sanctuary, between Puri and Konark, with an apparent design to accommodate the ambitious Vedanta University spread over 10,000 acres on the edge of the Black Buck sanctuary. So, the 10 km limit concept has been confined to the dustbins of the past.
Orissa has Naveen Patnaik as its minister in-charge of Forests and who, on many occasions, had refused to be coerced into any compromise of any sort on the issue of environment. It is high time he should cease to be guided by the falsehoods created by his bureaucratic associates in the secretariat and in the forest department.