Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN 
NAGPUR: Going against its own stand of notifying more and more protected areas (PAs) for wildlife crying out for space, the state government has given Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra (FDCM) 389.78 sqkm reserve forest area (38,978 hectares) to carry out logging operations. This is four and half times the size of entire Sanjay Gandhi national park in Mumbai.

The forest, given in lieu of forest FDCM has lost to sanctuaries, includes areas in Pench-Nagzira tiger corridor of Lendezari in Bhandara division. FDCM is a wholly-owned state government company engaged in commercial extraction of timber with zero wildlife management practices in its areas. The corporation had initially demanded 63,000 hectare area (630 sqkm) in lieu of areas given for declaring wildlife sanctuaries.

On June 17, FDCM moved a proposal demanding 618.12 sqkm (61,812 hectares) area for logging operations. The government on June 19 issued a GR diverting 38,978 hectares (389.78 sqkm) to the corporation. Of this, 3,133 hectares are in Kolhapur Circle, 20,021 in Bhandara division in Nagpur Circle; 11,957 hectares in Gadchiroli Circle and 3,867 hectares in Yavatmal Circle.

The main concern is about handing over 11 compartments each in Lendezari and Jamkandri ranges and five compartments in Nakadongri range in Bhandara division in Nagpur Circle. "Lendezari is known for tiger presence. At one time, it was even contemplated to be declared a wildlife sanctuary," says Rajkamal Job, honorary district wildlife warden of Bhandara.

Head of forest force (HoFF) AK Saxena said the area has been handed over to FDCM with a condition that it would follow practices commensurate with tiger corridor plans. "As it is, logging is becoming more conservative," he added. A senior wildlife wing official admitted that Lendezari, being part of a tiger corridor, FDCM would have to take steps for conservation. "Though the area given to FDCM is more than 10km from sanctuaries, if tiger presence is observed, felling will have to be stopped," he said.

Wildlife conservationists have vigorously protested against the move. "I'm against handing over reserve forest for commercial purposes. These forests are natural that cannot regain its original form once destroyed. I have already written to the government against handing over such forests for felling," said Kishor Rithe, former member of National Board for Wildlife (NBWL).

"Lendezari is dense forest and falls between Pench and Nagzira tiger reserves and is an established wildlife corridor. It is foolish to hand over tiger-bearing areas to FDCM for felling. It will also lead to biodiversity loss and soil erosion," said Prafulla Bhamburkar, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), adviser, Central India landscape. Lendezari is a patch from where tigers also move to Madhya Pradesh.

FDCM officials confirmed their demand for additional area is to compensate for around 330 sq km area it lost to newly-declared sanctuaries like Mansinghdeo, Navegaon, New Nagzira, Umred-Karhandla and Koka in the last four years. "The 330 sq km area we lost had a standing crop (teak & bamboo) worth Rs 230 crore (1 crore = 10 000 000 rupees). On average, we lost a bare minimum revenue of Rs 15 crore per month by handing over these forests," said FDCM officials. FDCM will not be able to undertake felling immediately and will first have to prepare a working plan for the area before it is handed over to them.


* Nagpur & Chandrapur Circles are rich in tiger population and biodiversity and corridors

* Lendezari is a dense forest and good tiger habitat that will be destroyed

* It is a migratory route. Tigers from Nagzira move towards Pench and also in MP

* FDCM clear fells such areas and grows teak and bamboo on them

* FDCM timber extraction would lead to soil erosion and biodiversity loss

* There was plan to declare Lendezari a sanctuary

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