MUMBAI: The Great Indian Bustard's sanctuary in Maharashtra may shrink to just 4% of its present size if the state government has its way.
The Great Indian Bustard, also called Maldhok, is an endangered species.
The government, it is learnt, will soon file an affidavit in the Supreme Court stating it has no objection to reducing the area under the Maldhok (bustard) bird sanctuary in Solapur from 8496.44 sq km to just 395 sq km to revive stone quarries in the region.
At a meeting in Mantralaya last week, chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh ordered forest department officials to file the affidavit before August 15, a department official said.
Forest minister Babanrao Pachpute confirmed the state government has decided to file the affidavit. "I am going to New Delhi on Thursday in this regard," he said.
The government's decision comes after an expert committee it constituted submitted a report stating there was no need for the sanctuary at all, officials in the forest department said. The report also says that there are only 25 birds of the Maldhok species in the sanctuary, officials said on condition of anonymity.
There are several stone mines inside the sanctuary which were closed down
on the apex court's order on July 12, 2006 after a bird lover, M Bajpai, filed a petition claiming that stone quarrying was ca using problems to the birds. Turn to p14
The mining lobby had since been putting pressure on the government to find a way to revive the quarries.
Last year, the state government filed a petition in the apex court, seeking to revise the boundaries of the sanctuary excluding the area where the mines were located.
The Supreme Court then asked the government to appoint an expert committee to study the proposal's feasibility. The committee report, submitted recently, came as a big relief to mine owners.
Narsayya Adam, Congress MLA from Solapur who led the mine owners' campaign, told DNA: "More than one lakh workers had lost employment after the mines were closed down. We have to buy stones at higher prices from neighbouring Pune district."
"There is a railway track at Nanaj near the bird sanctuary — the mines are located just 20km from the tracks. The Solapur collector has submitted a report to the state government that neither the tracks nor the stone mines create noise pollution. In fact, the district administration had submitted a report recommending exclusion of the area under the stone mines from the sanctuary in 1995," Adam said.
Bird expert Adesh Shivkar has backed the government's decision. "It is unrealistic to reserve 8,000 sq km for a bird which is isolated in only 300 sq km of the sanctuary. Moreover, Maldhok cannot be protected by hurting the local residents' sentiments and at their employment."
He, however, said the report that only 25 Maldhoks remained in the sanctuary was misleading. "The bird is also found in Sironcha and Pune. Awareness is more important to save the bird than the space," he said.
"The very prime and best habitat of the birds should be conserved at all costs," said naturalist Sunjoy Monga. "A lot of the area includes villages and even a township, which may be the reason for the government's decision," he added.
The sanctuary is located around 400 km from Mumbai and is spread over Uttar Solapur, Mohol, Madha, Karmala, Shrigonda, Karjat and Nevasa tehsils of Solapur and Ahmednagar districts. It is a popular destination for bird watchers, especially those interested in the Great Indian Bustard. Mongooses, squirrels and deer are also found in the area.