The request by the Tamil Nadu government’s Department of Environment to declassify part of the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary in Chengalpattu district has given rise to apprehensions among the environmental enthusiasts and the residents. The environmental activists have raised alarm over the request and termed it “a move to promote industrial operations within the 5 km radius of the lake”. The main lake and the surrounding area that falls within the 5 km radius have been classified as a sanctuary.
The residents from the neighbourhood of the sanctuary have been complaining of water, air and soil pollution due to the pharma companies’ plants in the region. The environmental activists have demanded that the additional director general of forests of the Department of Environment, Forest and Climate Change reject the request of the government of Tamil Nadu. The local community has opposed the proposed declassification of the land, a survey has found.
‘DECLASSIFICATION IN FAVOUR OF INDUSTRIES’
The principal secretary of the Department of Environment and Forest to the government of Tamil Nadu in a letter dated March 19, 2020, had demanded the declassification of the region. The demand is still reportedly pending.
The sanctuary was initially announced as a reserve forest in 1962 through the Madras Forest Act. Subsequently, in 1998, it was awarded the status of bird sanctuary through the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. As per the notification categorising Vedanthagal as a bird sanctuary, the five-kilometre region around the lake is included in the bird sanctuary.
If the proposal is accepted by the National Board of Wildlife, the sanctuary is set to lose 50 sq km, roughly around 60% of the area of the sanctuary. The declassified region could be used commercially, exposing the sensitive region to more pollution.
Nityanand Jayaraman, a social activist, in a virtual press meet, said, “The move to declassify the region around the main tank is uncalled for. If an eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) is deemed mandatory, it should be outside the protected area of the sanctuary and definitely not within.”
‘FOREST DEPARTMENT’S RELEASE MISGUIDING’
The Chief Wildlife Warden released a clarification on June 9, regarding the dispute over the apprehensions raised. The letter bore no date, signature nor the seal as is the practice in the government publications.
The letter reiterated that only demarcation of core, buffer and eco-sensitive zones is proposed. It also stated that the move is based on the directives of the Wildlife Institute of India and is not in favour of any industry.
“The letter has demanded denotification based on the central government’s advisory on classifying the areas into core, buffer and eco-sensitive zones. The classification of core and buffer zones does not apply for all the sanctuaries; it applies only for tiger reserves, as per the amendment in the Wildlife Protection Act in 2006,” Jayaraman added.
SUN PHARMA DENIES EXPANSION PLANS
Sun Pharma had reportedly claimed, in a proposal for expansion, that the organisation is located at a 3.72 km distance from the main tank and 0.72 km from the buffer zone. This supports the allegation by the activists regarding a collision between the organisation and the Forest Department officials, even though the proposal is still pending.
However, Sun Pharmaceuticals, functioning from within the sanctuary, now has denied any plan of expansion in a tweet.
It should be noted that a few other organisations including Ordain Healthcare and Amco Batteries operate within the 5 km boundary of the bird sanctuary.
But Sun Pharma is being accused of functioning without the necessary permissions from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board between June 2018 and January 2020.
“As and when the region was notified as a sanctuary, all the industrial operations should have come to a halt, but the companies are continuing to function within the 5 km region around the lake. If the present proposal of the Forest Department is approved, the situation will only worsen. The discharges from Sun Pharma have polluted water in many villages and the company is providing drinking water, in a face-saving move. Already, the water contamination is keeping away the migratory birds from the region”, said E Shankar, state committee member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
PEOPLE AGAINST DECLASSIFICATION
There are 28 revenue villages surrounding the lake, which depend largely on farming. The press release by the Forest Department has claimed that the declassification is to ensure more effective implementation of the existing laws without affecting the people.
But the Tamil Nadu Science Forum (TNSF), which conducted a survey in the villages, claims that the residents are against the move to declassify the region.
M Munusamy, district vice president of the TNSF, said, “The people are overwhelmingly in support of the bird sanctuary which has become a part of their tradition. The companies existing in the region have polluted their land, water, and air. We have completed the survey in 80% of the villages and 99% of the people are against any move to declassify the land which would further increase pollution in the region.”
The argument of creating employment by bringing more industries in the region has few takers. The only set of people who support the declassification belongs to the real estate business, the TNSF survey has found. Around 21 organisations have approached the Madras High Court against the declassification and have written to the prime minister condemning the move.
'WITHDRAW PROPOSAL FOR DECLASSIFICATION'
The area of the main lake is 29.51 Ha, which is surrounded by more than 80 small lakes. This region is a breeding and hunting ground for the thousands of birds visiting the lake every year.
“The region around the lake would be under a threat if the declassification is approved thereby creating an adverse impact on the sanctuary and the ecosystem. Hence, we demand that the state government withdraw the proposal and constitute an inquiry committee into the discrepancies. The state government should abandon any move to declassify the region around the sanctuaries favouring industries,” added Jayaraman.