Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hadagarh Sanctuary- Reeling under pressure from Mines

Kanhu Majhi(Ajit Das)the tribal guy from one of the remote villages of Mayurbhanj grows up amidst the wooded forests & waterfalls , wakes up to the calls of pea fowls, runs with his childhood sweet heart Dhaani( Jaya) in Mustard fields during day time, comes back home tired and straight into the warm lap of Guruma( Sujata Anand) and shares a bowl of Pakhala with Manua(Bijay Mohanty). He dreams of setting up his small home in the village along with Dhaani where his off springs would grow on to become farmers. Dasa ( Jairam Samal), the local one room grocery shop owner and Singha Pua ( Dukhiram Swain), the Bihari trader would gulp down country liquor with dried fish, sukhua in the evening and eye the innocent tribal girls. Kanhu Majhi goes on to study in city ( most probably Baripada which has not been mentioned in the movie and I am assuming the village where they live is to be inside Similipal ) leaving behind Dhaani and his village. Things change. Kanhua completes his graduation and goes on to become Hakim Babu(IAS). The ever greedy city dwellers and bureaucrats could not digest the peaceful and serene forests and the villages inside it. They could sense the presence of conspicuous wealth hidden under the green charming bed of Similipal in the form of Chromite and Iron Ore. Kanhua as lovingly called by villagers becomes Kanhu Majhi (I.A.S). He resists the change but circumstances force him to shed down the simplicity of being a Majhi and he marries the city grown and convent studied Barsha Samantray ( Dolly Jena). Dhaani, Manua and more importantly his Baa( Hemant Das) are left shattered and accept the fate that their Kanhua has changed along with time. Baa not able to bear the pain takes his last breath. Singha Pua and Dasa churn out money by winning bids for Forest Block and cutting trees rampantly. Singha Pua’s greediness forces him to go for Chromite Mine bid. Dasa is coaxed by Singha Pua that if he helps him relocate villagers then his one room thatched grocery shop would soon turn into a cemented shop with more business. Villagers resist. Kanhu Majhi also finally endorses the idea of relocating the village where he had spent his childhood days. Village is set ablaze in the middle of night by Singha Pua’s son. Poor villagers loose every thing. They leave back the village where their fore fathers had lived, they leave the fields where they had toiled day and night to make it fertile. Kanhu comes back to see people leaving amidst the setting sun. Soon the green forests would turn into ugly mining blocks. End result is what we are yet to see but it would not be less than a Catastrophe. While Hakim Babu released in 1985 was a movie but story is same across all the sanctuaries and forests of India. While on one hand we relocate villagers for demarcating boundaries, on the other hand we also allow mines to be set up very close to the forest cover, allow metalled roads to cut through the dense forests.

Entry Gate at Hadagarh

Thick Forests of Hadagarh

Anti Poaching Camp of Mayurbhanj Elephant Reserve at Salandi Reservoir

Situated in the district of Kendujhar, Hadagarh sanctuary spans over an area of 191.6 sq km and is one of the most strategically located sanctuaries from wildlife conservation point of view which is described in later part of this write up. Hadagarh falls under the purview of Divisional Forest Officer, Anandpur and comprises of one Range office at Hadagarh. There are two entry points to the sanctuary. One at Hadagarh situated about 20 odd kilometres from Anandpur ( Andapur as spelled in Oriya) and the other at Kathakata in Hatadihi Block , around 26kms from the DFOs office.
Banti, my cousin advised me to enter the sanctuary through Hadagarh gate as it would be afternoon by the time we would reach the sanctuary and Hadagarh village is the only place in the whole area where we could expect something to eat. He had a word of caution though. Being June we should not expect something very great as it is only in winter that this place sees hoards of visitors who come for picnics. After reaching Hadagarh village we got to see a small eatery, a one room hotel which also acted as shop owner’s residence. Freshly caught Rohu fish from the Salandi Dam was to be served as our lunch. Fish Curry, Rice, one Bhaji and Dal for twenty rupees only.

Lunch at the Hadgarh Village

After having a filling lunch we sat with the stall owner for a round of chat along with cup of tea. He has never seen a Tiger in the region, but says that prior to the Dam construction, Tigers were to be seen in the area. After construction of the Dam they are not to be seen any more. Elephants migrate out of the sanctuary area and cause menace in the agricultural lands because there traditional paths of movement have now been blocked by villages and the Dam reservoir.
Hadagarh may not boast of numerous animals as some of the other sanctuaries of country do but it stands upright in terms of its own importance. If you glance at the map below, you will come to know that Orissa’s most important forest cover in terms of Tiger’s source population, Similipal lies north of Hadagarh and is connected to it by a thin patch of forests rich in Sal and its associated family of trees. On the east lies the Hadagarh dam and again a very thin line of corridor connecting with Kuldiha wildlife sanctuary. This means Hadagarh can act as a very vital path for seasonal migration of Elephants from Similipal to the Forests of Kuldiha and vice versa. In fact Hadagarh Sanctuary can act as a solid patch of forests for Tigers and Leopards of South Similipal which wander in search of new habitats in case there is spillage from south Similipal ( this statement does not have any value presently with Similipal reporting as less as 20 Tigers in the latest census published NTCA in 2011). But very less studies in this direction has happened and there has been no scientific data maintained or published in this regard as of now. The forest watcher at the Hadagarh Check gate told that there have been frequent sightings of Leopard pug marks in the northern part of the sanctuary. That means these are good signs for future of Big Cats, provided proper focus is given to these less heard and less focussed sanctuaries like Hadagarh. Though there was no direct sighting of animals during my day long search, we were told by local villagers the forest has good number of animals like wild boars which again means that this forest has enough prey base to support at least 10-15 leopards if not more. Boula mountain range forms the lower edge of the sanctuary and is absolutely a solid demarcation line between the sanctuary and the revenue villages.

(Source: Google Earth)

Thin line of corridors between between Hadagarh, Kuldiha and South Similipal

Machan to protect crops from Wild Boars

But concerning part is that Chromite mines have been leased out to some mining companies just outside the Sanctuary area. It is absolutely fine that we operate mines as at the end of the day industrialisation is absolutely necessary. But the mine operators and industrialists need to be sensitive towards the environment where there next generations are going to survive in. There have been cases where local environmentalists have complained that even blasting takes place in the night hours which is so disturbing for the wildlife. Highly luminous lights used in the area and constant movement of Dumpers will also have effect in the area in longer run. It is not the case only with Hadagarh but rather so many sanctuaries across India. One of the major Tiger population has got confided to Tadoba Andhari Tiger reserve in Maharashtra and there is huge pressure of Open Cast Coal Mines present adjoining to the Buffer Area. Same is the case with Kanha where Mallajkhand mines are present. Whereas Tadoba and Kanha have lot of Activists fighting for their cause, sanctuaries like Hadagarh have none.

Salandi River- Life Line of the Sanctuary

A Paddyfield Pipit

A Rat Snake

Timber Mafias operating in the area are involved in occasional felling of trees. When it happens and in which area it happens that I am not sure of. During our visit, we could see cycle loads of fire wood being collected from the sanctuary area. Often one can come across this Wood cutters carrying valuable log pieces on their cycles and crossing the Baitarani river at Makundpur and Dulakhpatna of Jajpur district on boats which is then sold in places like Jajpur Town at a premium price. What Hadgarh perhaps needs is frequent patrolling by forest staff along with awareness programmes in the nearby villages. Until and unless we carry out development work in the villages situated in and around the sanctuary, there dependency on the Timber and Mining mafias would always be there causing long term harm to the area. Primary healthcare, self-help groups & Co-operative societies to process various NTFPs(Non Timber Based Forest Products) and primary education is what the area needs. This is what local NGOs and individual activists can do but at the same time State Government has a bigger role to play in terms of regulating Mining Companies that operate in and around areas like Hadagarh. Or else all the efforts go for a toss.I have always believed in the wisdom of those wildlife activists who have said that wildlife and human beings cannot co exist. But for a moment just imagine of a situation where villagers had to reloacate from forests because of construction of a dam. And then years after they settle down somewhere nearby they are said that they cannot enter the forests to even collect firewood. If on a longer run this can save forests and wildlife and hence our environment then fine , go for this sort of legislations and executions. But one has to show same treatment for the Mining companies also. There is no point in notifying areas as sanctuaries and at the same time inviting devastation through clandestine tie-ups and vested interests of individual Hakim Babus and Mining Mafias.