With general elections near, elected leaders seem to be playing politics with wildlife too. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA Dadarao Keche from Arvi is instigating shepherds to graze cattle inside New Bor Wildlife Sanctuary, 60 km from Wardha district.
“Off late, the pastoral community in 10 villages, have ganged up under the patronage of Keche and are forcing their cattle into the sanctuary.”
The 60.69 sq km New Bor was notified as sanctuary by the government on February 28, 2012. It adds to the adjoining 60 sq km Bor sanctuary. New Bor was notified for long-term conservation of tigers, which otherwise entered adjoining villages starting man-animal conflict. “Off late, Gawlis, the pastoral community members in around 10 villages, have ganged up under the patronage of Keche and are forcing their cattle into the sanctuary,” said Swanand Soni of NGO Srushti.
“There are around 15,000 cattle, most of them unproductive, in over 10 villages around New Bor putting grazing pressure. Lenient view by forest officials from Wardha over the years has boosted their morale of cattle owners,” says G B Mahure of Bor Foundation, a NGO.
On July 20, there was a scuffle between Gawlis and forest staff over illicit grazing in New Bor. Offences were registered against violators who incited attack on forest vehicle.
This is despite the fact that Wardha forest division has granted at least 14,000 hectare forest area in 20 compartments in Hingni and Karanja ranges for grazing. It includes most vulnerable villages like Navargaon, Aamgaon, Malegaon, Met, Dhanoli among others.
Keche alleged forest officials lured villagers and faked their signatures to get the sanctuary notified. The MLA was unaware that entire notified area is a reserve forest where people have no rights under law and hence consent of gram sabhas or panchayat is not needed.
As per Supreme Court orders on February 14, 2000, grazing is prohibited in sanctuary. When pointed out, a fuming Keche said, “I’m not against the sanctuary. I want the department to free more forest area for grazing. After all it is people’s forest and grazing is a prime issue.”
The MLA also threatened to lock Bor office if more grazing areas were not opened to the Gawlis. He also wanted to denotify New Bor. “I’ve called a meeting with forest secretary Praveen Pardeshi in Wardha next week to decide on the issue,” he added. Surprisingly, three months ago, Keche gave his consent to a proposal to expand Bor and New Bor sanctuaries by 160 sq km.
Eyeing elections, Gawlis are desperate on grazing cattle in New Bor. They have till now met Wardha guardian minister Rajendra Mulak, MLA Suresh Deshmukh, MP Datta Meghe and Chandrapur MP Hansraj Ahir and ex-MLA Ramesh Bang. However, except Keche, none have openly come out in support of grazing in the sanctuary.
Original Story: Times of India