Wildlife & Biodiversity

How Maharashtra’s dam on ‘Human’ river threatens tigers

The dam proposed at Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve threatens to submerge more than 90 per cent of a 7-km forest area

 
By Moushumi Basu
Published: Tuesday 03 March 2020
Tigers in Maharashtra

Tigers of Tadoba Andhari, Maharashtra’s largest reserve for the wild cat, are once again banking on their human well-wishers for survival. A dam proposed on the river Human (pronounced Hooman) at Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) in Chandrapur district threatens to submerge more than 90 per cent of a 7-km forest area.

The project not only falls in TATR buffer zone, but also the eco-sensitive zone of Ghodazari Wildlife Sanctuary closeby.

It will break the only linking corridor for tiger movement between TATR, Ghodazari and Umred-Karhandla wildlife sanctuaries in the state. At present, the tigers freely step out of the 1,724-sq km TATR, go up to Umred Karhandla in Nagpur, travel to Nagzira tiger reserve in Bhandara and reach Navegaon National Park in Gondia, covering 100-120 km.

Those moving eastward, ramble as far as Indravati Tiger Reserve in Chhattisgarh. Others turn southwest through the proposed wildlife sanctuary of Kanhargaon and reach Kawal Tiger Reserve in Telangana, 70-80 km from TATR.

This long-range corridor will get blocked for the tigers of TATR and impede their migration if the government decides to build the dam.

 “The passage of animals will be constricted, so they will turn towards human settlements and agricultural fields, thus aggravating human-wildlife conflicts,” said Kishore Rithe, founder of Satpuda Foundation, a non-profit working for tiger and conservation in central India. The region is already vulnerable to such incidents.

As many as 140 human deaths were registered here since 2007, he notes. What’s more, the land proposed for project is part of a legally notified corridor, according to the approved tiger conservation plan of TATR.

The project was initiated as far back as 1984-85 when the Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation started the first phase of construction. The aim was to build a 247-million cubic metre capacity dam that would irrigate 46,117 hectares of agricultural land in the region. However, work was stalled as it violated the Forest Conservation Act of 1980.

Over the past 35 years, several attempts were made by the government to revive the project, but it was put on the backburner following resistance and public interest petitions filed by environment bodies.

The issue emerged yet again this year when Sudhir Mungantiwar, a political heavyweight hailing from Chandrapur pushed for the project.

On January 13, a meeting was called which was attended by members of the State Wildlife Board, wildlife non-profits and forest and irrigation department officials as well as principal forest secretary Vikas Kharge. Deepak Apte, director of Bombay Natural History Society, and Rithe vehemently opposed the project.

Later, Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray announced that the project will be implemented, but not at the cost of tigers.

He has given the irrigation department officials a month to explore the alternatives offered by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) in 2014.

While studying feasibility of the project, NTCA had suggested three alternatives. It called for shifting the project 5 km upstream of the river, which is 3.5 km from Tadoba. This will safeguard 5-6 km of the corridor downstream.

NTCA also suggested restoration of 2-3 km of the corridor downstream by procuring private land and converting it into quality forest by planting native trees. Third suggestion was to develop lift irrigation schemes, barrages and small dams, and revive the existing old village tanks.

“Such options can create a win-win situation for both the development project as well as tigers,” said Anup Nayak, member secretary, NTCA.

The strength of tatr lies in its contiguity with the Chandrapur and Bramhapuri forest divisions, NTCA pointed out in its feasibility report. tatr, which lies in Bramhapuri forest division, is densely occupied by tigers. It harbours as many as 86- 88 tigers with an average density of 5.28 per 100 sq km.

The reserve also hosts other wild animals, such as leopard, wild dog, sloth bear, gaur, sambhar, cheetal, besides the rarely spotted ratel, flying squirrel, pangolin and rusty spotted cat. There are eight adults and seven cubs in Nagzira and two males and two cubs in Navegaon.

“Corridors are vital for the survival of long-ranging species, and tigers have been studied to migrate from high to low density tigerbearing areas,” said Nayak.

Corridors are also essential to check in-breeding among species and maintaining gene flow among them.

“The population of multiple endangered species, such as tiger, leopard, sloth bear, wild dogs and gaur in TATR are dependent on corridors for immigration and emigration, which are vital for their long term genetic viability,” said Milind Pariwakam, wildlife biologist at Delhi-based non-profit Wildlife Conservation Trust.

Multiple infrastructure developments, such as airports, roads, railway lines, irrigation canals, power lines and coal mines, are already threatening the corridor in Brahmapuri forest division.

“We are unable to save the existing corridors, forget about creating new ones for tiger dispersal, as was proposed by the Human dam proponents while pushing for its construction,” added Pariwakam.

Meanwhile, Rithe questions the necessity of the project. He points out there has been a sea change in local irrigation scenario since the conception of the dam. As many as 20-22 major and minor irrigation schemes, such as Gosikhurd, Irai, Ghodazari, Asolamendha, Nalleshwar, Chargaon have come up in Tadoba, which address the irrigational needs of the region.

“The purpose of the dam has become redundant today,” he says. It is, therefore, essential that the government reviews the project before taking a decision on its implementation.

This was first published in Down To Earth's print edition (dated 1-15 March, 2020) 

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