The Nature Volunteers, a leading conservation movement and a not-for-profit organization functioning from Indore in Madhya Pradesh, Central India, has written a letter to the State Principal Secretary Forest with copies to the Chief Mininister and all concerned authorities to draw attention to the threated forests in the State, with special focus on the forest tracts of Kerwan and Kaliasot and Ratapani, which is a tiger habitat, and demand that an immediate meeting of Bhopal Divisional Commissioner, District Collector, Chief Conservator of Forest and others be convened on priority to prevent further damage to the forest cover in this area.
Talking to Newsroom24x7 on Friday 9 October, Abhilash Khandekar, senior journalist, environemntalist and co-founder of TNV, underscored the urgent need to arrest the reckless destruction of the tiger habitat adjoining the capital of the central Indian State of Madhya Pradesh and drew attention to a letter to the State Perincipal Secretary Forest, with copies marked to the State Chief Minister, Chief Secretary and Union Minister of Environment Forest and Climate Change by President of TNV, Bhalu Mondhe.
Bhalu Mondhe, a world renowned artist and wildlife photographer, has been honoured with the Padma Shri award by the President of India. He has expressed grave concern over the threat posed by unhindered encroachment, logging of trees and reckless clearing of forest cover in the Kerwan and Kaliasot area touching the southern periphery of Bhopal.
“It is with lot of pain we are writing to you to draw your kind attention to the threatened forests of MP. We are reading daily reports of massive felling of standing forests, be it in Ratapani sanctuary and near-by jungles of Bhopal or Choral Forest near Indore or those in the Nirmar region. Whether the tree fellers are encroachers or tribals seeking pattas under the FRA or they are local agriculture labours or are forest officials hand in glove with criminals, we are not aware. However, the fact is very clear for all of us to see that forests are under unprecedented stress due to wrong policies of the State Government regarding allotting pattas.
The other issue which is burning under the very nose of the Government is the threatened forests tracts in and around Kerwa and Kaliasot Jungles which are also tiger-bearing areas of the wonderful capital of our state. They function as the carbon sinks for Bhopal and as such very important for the citizens. Bhopal’s tree cover is fast dwindling, as you may be aware.
An IISC, Bengaluru, study shows that in the year 1977, Bhopal had 92% area under vegetation. By 2014 it came down to just 21% ; in other words, between 1977 and 2014, the green cover shrunk by a whooping 77% which is extremely shocking, to say the least ! While working on a book ‘Forests of MP’ by the great civil servant (late) Dr M N Buch, I had photographed many of these jungles which are fast disappearing now.
We are given to understand that the 350 ha of pristine forests ( earlier it was more) very close to the Bhopal city in Chandanpura area, are now being encroached upon by the high and mighty people in the name of development. The proposed Bhopal Master Plan-2031 provides for a long road cutting through the thick forests which is under Revenue and/or Reserved Forest category. The proposed road is also going through the Upper Lake, a Ramsar Site. There are other permissions also on the card which will surely ruin forest and beautiful natural heritage of Bhopal. This is being done to benefit a chosen few groups of people, though we do not know who they are. Such an effort must not be supported by Forest Deptt under any circumstances.
We are vehemently opposing this kind of a road construction and want Forest Department to take a firm stand on this issue and do not let this Plan damage the forest and wildlife. Any new road will eventually bring more human activities detrimental to the lake and vegetation. Various rare species of trees are found in these jungles. It’s a safe passage for tigers from Ratapni. It’s also a government land which must be secured for posterity and can not be given to private people under PSP. The large verdant area is a biodiversity hotspot which needs complete conservation under the Biodiversity Act 2002. The NGT, Supreme Court etc have already ruled in this matter from time to time. No violation therefore must take place here as it would amount to the contempt of the SC. Forest Department is erecting large chain-link boundaries there but that is not a lasting solution. Keeping the area inviolate for tigers is definitely the solution. Section 20 A(4) of the Indian Forest Act is applicable on these forests. This Act is very stringent. More sections, SC orders may be invoked to save this forest tract.
Our organisation TNV (founded 1992) has been working in the field of environment conservation. Way back in 2006-07, we had launched ‘ Save Tiger Campaign’ across MP and had submitted our report to Honourable CM, Shri Shivraj Singh. We are saving wetlands and bird habitats in Indore. TNV has published books on vultures, as also on Indore’s urban birds. We have been active in this field for more than 25 years. Our Sirpur Lake conservation project is an all India success story in urban lake conservation category.
Given the background, we urge upon you Sir to save the forests of Bhopal at any cost and on top priority. A visit by you to the spot, if not undertaken yet, would help a great deal.
There are already many illegally constructed education institutes such as Jagran University, Sansakar Valley School and NLUI in the precincts of the Kerwa/Kaliasot. A few more may perhaps be allowed by T&CP Planners but this trend must stop here.
Many mighty people have already encroached upon the forest/Govt land to make large farm houses there. They must be evicted from there with an iron hand.
We are told that the botanical garden land parcel, earmarked for the specific purpose near Kerwa, is being converted into residential, under the Plan. This is in gross violation of the 2005 Plan and MUST not be allowed.
Bhalu concludes by observing: “Once upon a time there was a proposal of extension of Van Vihar National Park into these verdant jungles but somehow it did not make much progress. Idea was to throw a protection cover around this jungle. It can still be revived as a practical protection measure, if possible.”