Objections against permitting the use of Kerwa- Kaliasot revenue and revenue forest area for the development of semi-public and public institutions

Suhas Kumar

As a citizen of this country as well as a resident of Bhopal I have strong objections to the proposal to allow public and semi-public institutions to come up in the area around Kerwa, which is home to around 11 resident tigers and dispersal route for the young tigers of Ratapani Wild Life Sanctuary. With the dedicated effort of the forest department of the state government the forest habitat of Ratapani, Kathotiya, Kerwa and Kaliasot have become excellent habitats for tigers and as a result of this there are around 45 tigers in Ratapani alone. The young dispersing tigers are travelling through the forests and revenue forests and riverine vegetation to those areas from where tigers had vanished due to the onslaught of unplanned development – now these young tigers are reaching Sehore, Kantaphod, Kheoni sanctuary, Onkareshwar National park (proposed), Choral and Shajapur Forests. Therefore, tigers of Ratapani and Kerwa are major contributors to the overall tiger population of the state, which has resulted in Madhya Pradesh regaining its status as a the ‘TIGER STATE’. Now the latest move of the government would completely destroy the efforts made so far.

It is an irony that the state government and NTCA has already spent a lot of money to protect and manage this area for tigers. The Officers and staff have zealously spent so much time and energy to ensure that the tigers of Kerwa remain safe – for the first time in the history of conservation in India the NTCA spent around 4.5 crore to establish the e-eye surveillance system covering 3 territorial forest divisions, the state provided funds to organize a series of trainings for territorial staff to impart for effectively monitor the tigers, gather intelligence and curb illegal activities in the tiger movement areas. Now if the government wants to undo this hard work that is linked with the prestige of the state as the TIGER State of India, then it is heading for a major shock as the tiger-wildlife conflict will increase and as always the tiger will be the loser and the FD and the state will earn a bad name.

One need to understand that about a 100 year ago the City of Bhopal was an extensive wild land extending in all four directions but within last six decades the expanding township began eating into nature’s strong bastion that once teemed with wild animals. The onslaught of development accelerated and in last 15 years, the city ate into the remaining wild habitats brining humans into a direct conflict with wild animals. The concrete jungle fragmented and destroyed the homes of the wild inhabitants. Till 1960s the jungle covered most part of city and tigers used to roam in areas what is now the new Bhopal outside the old city.
Only a vestige of the original jungle remains at the south east part of the town and that too is now threatened by ill-planned expansion of the city. Ratapani wildlife sanctuary is located just at the south- south-east fringe of this forest garland. Ratapani Sanctuary is the only secure habitat left in this tract where tigers have been breeding. Over the years the habitat has improved, and the number of tigers has increased, necessitating young tigresses and tigers to move out from within the sanctuary boundary to the forests outside the reserve to find suitable breeding and foraging habitats. My personal knowledge is that tiger’s movement in Kerwa has been reported every year since 1996, while a survey by WWF –India, in which they interviewed some village elders reveals that the tigers have been using the Kerwa-Kathotiya tract from time immemorial. It is another matter that in those times neither the media was so proactive to seek out tigers and nor the Kerwa or Kaliasot area was so full of academic institutions, human colonies, and a heavy tourist inflow. The only change in the behavior of tigers that we see now is that some tigresses have begun using Kerwa, Kaliasot and Smardha forests for breeding and raising cubs.

Tigers make news especially when they appear near the cities; only a little commotion precipitates in media when the large cats wander around a village. Is it an elite abhorrence of tigers? The fact that stares in our face is that the city dwellers are under real threat from rising number of criminals in Bhopal. And from among animals the city residents are more prone to contracting rabies from a huge population of stray dogs or they may get a deadly bite from the snakes that have become more active as their dwelling holes and crevices are being dug out and destroyed by colonizers ; on the other hand the tigers around Bhopal pose a marginal threat, in fact, they are themselves seriously threatened by humans.
Possible Strategy that may resolve the problem:

  1. Plan the expansion of the city rationally to preserve the garland of the extant green belt around Bhopal.
  2. Identify all movement paths that a tiger might use to stray into human dwellings, fence these areas off with a combination of mesh-wire and solar power fence; both types of fences would need intensive upkeep and monitoring. Or, if the government is willing to spend money build a ten feet wall topped with 3 feet of mesh-wire fence all along the movement path like the one built by the managers of Ranthambhore tiger reserve to keep the town of Sawai Madhopur out of bound for tigers.
  3. Train and place at least six professional teams to monitor and report tiger moment 24X7 outside Ratapani sanctuary, and issue timely alerts.
  4. Identify suitable potential tiger habitats outside protected areas (in territorial divisions and buffer zones), carry out required habitat augmentation work to enhance prey base, build the capacity of the staff and equip them in a way to combat wildlife crime and monitor tigers in their areas. Once this is achieved the wildlife wing may be able to rehabilitate tigers straying out of natal areas into towns in such potential habitats.
  5. Improve habitat protection and development of grasslands in Kerwa, Kathotiya Ratapani, Badi and Samradha forest and augment water sources where necessary in these areas. Once the habitat improves, translocate chital from PAs with surplus chital population.
  6. Implementing this plan will entail a huge capital and recurring expenditure, but in a state that is committed to conserving its natural heritage, this is the only logical way to protect the Bhopal tigers from vanishing into oblivion.

The planned development of the area in question by the state government was brought before THE NATIONAL GREEN TRIBUNAL PRINCIPAL BENCH, NEW DELHI Original Application No. 457 of 2018 (Earlier O.A. No. 159 of 2014(CZ)) (I.A. No. 104/2019 (CZ) & 106/2019 (CZ)). As per the directions of the NGT the APCCF, Regional Office, MoEF & CC at Bhopal visited the site and submitted a report in respect of the land in question.

The report of APCCF, Regional MOEF& CC, Bhopal, recommends as follows :

“Therefore, the undersigned most earnestly submits that to save the further destruction of this important tiger habitat all the remaining deemed forest areas may be quickly mapped, notified and handed over to the state forest department for administration. One of the ways to hasten the process is for the State to offer these areas under the Compensatory Afforestation (CA) scheme for a large number of forest diversion cases being submitted by the state government, every month, to MoEF & CC for clearance. It is assured that MoEF & CC has no hesitation to the accept these areas under CA scheme.”

After receiving this report, the NGT passed an order asking the state government to direct the Forest Department of State of Madhya Pradesh to proceed on the aforesaid recommendation with regard to mapping, notifying and handing over the land so notified to the Forest Department. As per the direction of the NGT this exercise should have been completed within a period of three months i.e. 30.04.2020.

This was a very logical and sane recommendation by the government of India. The GoI even proactively suggests central funding to protect this habitat as a tiger habitat. There should be no hesitation on the part of the state government to accept it without any reservation

I therefore request the state government. as a citizen as well as a member of the State Board for wildlife to stop any further development work in Kerwa area and maintain a green belt there. And implement the plan detailed above to ensure survival of forests and tigers in the area. Tiger is a national symbol and a matter of pride for the state, we all must strive to protect it and its habitat at all cost.

The author, Suhas Kumar, IFS (Retd.) Msc (Botany), AIFC equv. Msc (Forestry) . Ph,D (Ecology & Environment), L.LB. PG Diploma in Wildlife Management, is Former PCCF, Madhya Pradesh
Member Madhya Pradesh State Board for Wildlife, Member Chhattisgarh State Board for Wildlife, Member Governing Council NCHSE Bhopal, Member Delhi Biodiversity Society, Member WWF-India, Madhya Pradesh & Chhattisgarh State Advisory Board


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