Greenpeace hopes for draft plan to protect wildlife, forests

Greenpeace India expressed hopes here today that the central government would draft a comprehensive plan to protect wildlife and dense forests from mining, while auctioning new blocks in future, after the recent Supreme Court decision to cancel coal blocks across several states.

Raipur: Greenpeace India expressed hopes here today that the central government would draft a comprehensive plan to protect wildlife and dense forests from mining, while auctioning new blocks in future, after the recent Supreme Court decision to cancel coal blocks across several states.

"We hope that the new government at the Centre will do the right things keeping in mind the well-being of wildlife and environment," Greenpeace India's campaigner Nandikesh Shivalingam said here today at a press conference, after he was asked about what environmental activists expect from the Narendra Modi-led NDA government to save bio-diversity.

The Supreme Court's recent ruling cancelling licences of 214 coal blocks terming these allocations "illegal" was heartening to activists and their long fight to save Indian forests, Shivalingam said.

"The government has got yet another opportunity to correct wrongs. We now urge the Centre and state governments to avoid auctioning within forests and set up an independent committee to study elephant movement in the state to manage human-wildlife conflict more effectively," he said.

He was speaking after Greenpeace India released its report? 'Elephant in the Room' here today at the Raipur Press Club, about human-elephant conflict in four forest divisions of Chhattisgarh, namely South Sarguja, Katghora, Korba and Dharamjaigarh in which two coal fields, Hasdeo Arand and Mandraigarh are located.

Briefing reporters about the study, Greenpeace India's senior media officer Nitya Kaushik said, "The study takes an inclusive look at current issues within these four forest divisions where coal mining is proposed. Mining in the area has led to an alarming increase in human-elephant conflicts, which are known to cause damage to human life and property as well."

"Human deaths due to elephant attacks have also increased eight times, to an average of 25 deaths a year, since 2005. Unfortunately, the Chhattisgarh government has failed to address the issue," Kaushik said.

According to the Greenpeace report, around 14 elephants died due to electrocution in Chhattisgarh between 2005 and 2013.

Human-elephant conflict also caused 198 human deaths here in the same period, the report said.

Chhattisgarh recorded 8,657 incidents of property damages and 99,152 incidents of crop damage between 2004 and 2014, while total compensation paid after human-elephant conflict amounted to Rs 2,140.2 lakh during this period, the report said.

"Incidentally, elephant presence was recorded in most coal blocks in the study area, where the government has identified mining sites. These forest divisions already account for an average of more than 30 per cent human deaths and crop damage incidents of the state. Hence, further diversion of forests here could lead to an increase in existing human-elephant conflict," the report said.

"Despite glaring evidence of elephant presence in these forest divisions as well as advice from expert bodies to protect Korba and Dharamjaigarh forests, the state has dropped the proposed Lemru Elephant Reserve, possibly due to mining interests," the report said.

"These forests are home not just to elephants but also leopards and bears, and may be even tigers. It is ironical that the state dropped the Lemru Elephant Reserve even after obtaining all permissions from the Centre in 2007," Shivalingam, who is also the lead author of the report said.