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the Orissa government has withdrawn proposals to create two new elephant reserves in the state. Its proposals to create the South Orissa elephant reserve and the Baitarani elephant reserves under Project Elephant had been approved by the Centre about a year back. But, on July 26, the state government informed the Centre that it is not interested in the reserves. It also wanted the proposal of increasing the area of existing elephant reserves dropped.
The South Orissa reserve was proposed over an area of 4,216 sq km in Rayagada, Kandhmal and Kalahandi districts and the Baitarani reserve was to come up in 10,516 sq km in mineral-rich Keonjhar and Sundergarh. Conservationists allege that the Orissa government is trying to make them accessible to miners. "Mega bauxite and iron ore mines, and metal industries proposed in areas earmarked for the reserves will get easy clearances," said wildlife expert, Biswajit Mohanty.Vedanta, for example, is setting up an aluminium refinery using bauxite reserves of Lanjigarh and Baphlimali in Kalahandi (see 'Undermined', Down To Earth, July 15, 2007).
Orissa has three elephant reserves: Mayurbhanj, Mahanadi and Sambalpur and the state had sought expansion of the latter two. The state is home to more than 1,800 elephants--about 90 per cent of the total elephant population in eastern India. The state government says it has prepared a master plan to protect elephants. But conservationists allege that plan is an elephant management plan prepared by forest department in December last year.
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