Home to leopards, rich biodiversity and the Khandari lake – the Dumna forest ecosystem spread over 1,800 acres is currently facing a crisis of survival. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government and state governments have used the pandemic as a garb to push for projects, including the Central Vista project in Delhi and the concretisation of the Dumna green cover, that would otherwise draw public scrutiny and protests.
The movement to Save Dumna from such projects has been ongoing for the past five years – when a tiger safari was proposed in the heart of the forest reserve. As large scale protests grew, the central zoo authority shifted the location of the site. However, recently the state government has announced land redistribution for a slew of other projects including a 40 acre site for railway quarters, over 25 acres of land for a green city including a stadium and another 10 acres in the talks for a residential complex of those in the Revenue Department.
As such, ahead of the World Environment Day on June 5, civil society members have launched online campaigns to register their protests against the proposed projects. Further the Opposition Congress has also announced a protest on the lines of the Chipko movement.
Mongabay had previously reported on the ongoing movement to keep the reserve undisturbed, which stated that at least three public interest litigations (PILs) have been filed in the Madhya Pradesh High Court for this. One of the PILs said that “even if the minimum figures are taken, there would be a footfall of more than 250,000 people per annum in the tiger safari” which would mean about 800 people per day would visit the tiger safari and travel to the core of Dumna Nature Reserve for this purpose. Following the legal interventions, the high court had ordered five alternate routes to be introduced by the state government to go to Dumna and also questioned the state over their plans for reforestation.
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Speaking with NewsClick about the current situation, lawyer Anshuman Singh, who has been appointed as amicus curiae by the high court on the Dumna road widening petition, said, “The forest falls within the municipal area—with villages on one end and an airport on the other. Dumna stands out as a model of urban conservation, as a model of a symbiotic relationship between humans and wildlife.”
He went on to add, “The crisis is triggered by the tiger safari in the heart of Dumna. While the central zoo authority rejected the proposal for the site, a slew of other activities have been planned which are outside the purview of the Dumna nature reserve which is only a part of the Dumna forest fenced by the Forest Department. However, the Dumna eco system and the Kandhari water reserve are equally good forests with rich biodiversity and have been kept out of this purview. This land is now being used to give lease to various agencies for developmental purposes.”
Talking about the latest announcements, he said, “The area is being strangled. A stadium is also proposed as a part of a green city in the watershed area. The sewage generated will go into the Khandari lake. Moreover, it is a village road which will require widening that will cause damage to the trees, and add to the threat of man-animal conflict.”
Meanwhile, forest and wildlife activists are claiming that the government is using the pandemic to continue its onslaught on untouched environmental reserves for developmental projects, as the pandemic induced restrictions limit public gatherings. According to an activist, “While Dumna remains invisible in the mainstream narrative, tree felling, destruction of the watershed areas and concretisation of forest land are posing huge risks to the well preserved ecosystem with a conservation history for over 150 years.”
Ajay Dubay, an RTI activist in the state working on the issue, told NewsClick, “The lungs of the city and the leopard habitat will face enormous destruction, especially since environmental issues have taken a back seat amid the pandemic. While civil society members are active on the ground, the government is initiating a wide variety of projects at a time when people cannot step on to the streets, which is why resistance movements are now gaining traction online to counter the proposed projects.”