The Uttar Pradesh government has proposed a reduction in the area of land under the Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary. If the proposed plan gets the go-ahead, the sanctuary, spread over 2,073 sq. kms, will be reduced to 1,094 sq. kms – less than half its present size. Activists say the move could cause enormous damage to the area’s ecology and affect several hundred species of animals and birds which inhabit this crucial wildlife hotpot.
About 25 years ago, the area was notified as a wildlife sanctuary to protect the ecology and biodiversity of the Ganga basin.
The state government and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), which has been entrusted with the task of creating new boundaries, have argued that the sanctuary currently covers several towns and agricultural fields. It spans Muzaffarnagar, Meerut, Amroha and Hapur districts, including urban areas in Chandpur and Bijnor. The government feels that the de-notification of the land will make managing it easier, stalling poaching and other illegal activity in the region.
However, activists feel that the government’s argument does not hold water and that instead of prioritising the loss of ecology, it is instead creating leeway for corporate interests and big developers to enter the area.
Speaking to NewsClick, environmental activist Vikrant Tongad said: “The conflict over the sanctuary has been there since the very beginning. However, what is important is that the sanctuary has enormous biodiversity, it is one of the richest areas in UP, making it a wildlife hotspot. This area has been a bone of contention between farmers and land developers, we have even thought of approaching the NGT about this, as we strongly feel that this area is going to face massive devastation in the absence of a concrete plan of management with area reduction.”
Activists are of the opinion that land developers have shown an interest in the region and are trying to acquire land under the guise of farming activity.
Rajnish, another activist who works on issues around the Forest Rights Act, said that the “reduction in area spells destruction for the ecology but it is also a question of rights and the choice of people, as the government is planning on de-notifying the land. It is crucial that this takes place in with the will of the people. If the forest department is trying to take the land back it has to happen in accordance with the Forest Rights Act.”
Activists have held that a comprehensive view of India’s wildlife is needed to assess the case, while recent reports suggest that the current BJP regime has no substantial data on India’s wildlife, an approach which shows its eroding commitment towards the protection of crucial species.
NewsClick has written to the forest department of the state seeking an official response. However, a reply has not been forthcoming as yet.
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