Mumbai: Leading conservation groups and experts on Friday appealed to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, and Ministry of Railways to protect the Sanjay-Dubri Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh by realigning the existing Katni-Singrauli railway corridor, which has led to at least 39 deaths of wild animals since 2010, including that of a mother tigress last month.
The letter, also addressed to senior officials in the Madhya Pradesh forest department, has been signed by organisations such as the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Satpuda Foundation, The Corbett Foundation, Conservation Action Trust, Sanctuary Nature Foundation, Tiger Research and Conservation Trust, BAAVAN and Nature Conservation Society (Amravati).
It has also been endorsed by some of India’s leading voices on wildlife conservation, including MK Ranjitsingh, Asad Rahmani, A.J.T. Johnsingh, Raghu Chundawat, Divyabhanusinh Chavda, Nirmal Ghosh and Naveen Pandey.
The letter expresses concern over the proposed double-tracking of the railway line, to be executed by the Western Central Railway’s Jabalpur division, and for which forest and wildlife clearance is still awaited. The expansion involves cutting 14,187 trees in a linear fashion, and experts fear that the work may create a permanent barrier for wild animals looking to cross the track.
The project has been considered by the Madhya Pradesh State Wildlife Board and also referred to the National Tiger Conservation Authority, which has constituted a committee to examine the project’s impact on biodiversity. At present, the railway line passes through a critical tiger habitat for about 27.5km, occupying about 67 hectares of land.
“The outcome will be decided by the National Board for Wildlife. Before the matter can be considered, we must draw their attention to the clear detriments of the project, which will only increase the railway traffic through a key tiger habitat. The union environment ministry’s guidelines on linear intrusions in forest areas clearly state that such projects should be avoided,” said Kishor Rithe, founder of the Satpuda Foundation.
The Sanjay-Dubri Tiger Reserve (SDTR) is situated in the Sidhi district of Madhya Pradesh and is spread over an area of 1674.5km2, which includes the Sanjay National Park and Dubri Wildlife Sanctuary. The core area of the reserve spans 812.6km2, while the forested buffer area in Sidhi and Shahdol districts space about 862km2. The reserve also harbours key wildlife corridors between the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in the west, the Guru Ghasidas National Park in Chhattisgarh to the south and Palamau Tiger Reserve in Jharkhand in the east.
When contacted for comment, Jasbir Singh Chauhan, chief wildlife warden of Madhya Pradesh, said, “The ecological significance of this area for tigers and other wildlife is evident. Our stand is that the track should be realigned, which would also help to service villages and settlements situated around the park. We hope that the NTCA committee makes efforts to protect the area.”
As per forest department data, between January and December 2020, the presence of tigers and leopards was recorded 315 times in the nearby forest ranges of Dubri and Bastua, inside the boundary of SDTR. The presence of elephants has also been recorded on both sides of the railway track.
“The Bandhavgarh-SDTR-Guru Ghasidas landscape together constitutes 3,607 sq km and harbours 141 tigers… (It) has the potential to accommodate the increasing tiger population of Central India,” states the letter, a copy of which is with Hindustan Times.
“Scientific investigation has established that the tigers from Central India have high genetic diversity which is mainly due to the functionality of the existing wildlife corridors. The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) also have highlighted the importance of this landscape in the ‘All India Tiger Estimation 2018’ report. Also, this is the only area to the north of River Narmada where gaur, India’s largest bovine, occurs,” it added.