Chhattisgarh govt considering extending area of proposed Lemru Elephant Reserve

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Raipur: Chhattisgarh government is considering extending the area of the proposed Lemru Elephant Reserve (LER) following demands from the activists, who are advocating the inclusion of the total catchment area of the Hasdeo river within the pachyderms’ new habitat.

State forest department officials said Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel would take the final call on it, while exuding optimism that LER’s total area, measuring 1995.48 square kilometres, is likely to be extended.

The government might include in LER the total or a part of the catchment area of Hasdeo river, measuring around 250 sq km, the officials added.

However, the state government is facing a major hurdle because of the presence of four operational mines in the Hasdeo river’s catchment area, which also includes another five allotted mines and 12 coal reserves.

“The matter is under consideration. The CM will take the final decision,” said Rakesh Chaturvedi, principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF), Chhattisgarh.

Senior government officials said some Chhattisgarh-based activities have written to Congress leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, citing the proposed LER would remain a non-starter without the inclusion of the catchment area of the Hasdeo river.

Earlier, LER’s area was 450 sq km during the Raman Singh-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s rule in the state in 2007, which was extended to 1995.48 sq km by the Congress government last year.

Four forest divisions --- Korba, Katghora, Surajpur, and Dharamjaigarh -- fall under LER.

“There could be legal issues, if 250 sq km is included in LER because four operational mines fall in the area. The government may exclude these operational mines and include an additional 220 sq km in the proposed elephant reserve,” said a government official, privy of development.

“The CM is believed to be waiting for the instructions of the Congress high command,” he added.

Chhattisgarh-based activists have been demanding the extension of LER.

“The Hasdeo Bango dam irrigates 2.55 lakh hectares in Janjgir-Champa and Raigarh districts in Chhattisgarh and has empowered the Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and Other Backward Class (OBC) people living in the area. The forest dwellers of Kendai, Premnagar and Udaipur forest ranges must be spared from mining activities. Else, the local tribal population will be displaced again after their 61 villages were submerged because of the construction of the Hasdeo Bango dam,” said Sudiep Shrivastava, a Chhattisgarh-based lawyer and activist, who has written to Gandhi over the issue.

He also advocated for an extension of LER because it would act as an effective corridor for the region’s wild elephants.

LER is being developed as per the recommendations of centrally-constituted Special High-Power Technical Committee (SHPTC), which suggested measures such as the abundance of water, food, and a natural corridor for the state’s elephant population to thrive.

“The move will also lessen the man-elephant conflicts, destruction of human lives, crops, and properties,” said an official.

Alok Shukla, the convener of Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, which was formed in 2009 and focuses on people’s issues in the state, said LER would be a futile exercise, if Kendai, Morga, and Madanpur forest ranges are excluded from its jurisdiction.

“Perhaps, the government is under pressure from a select group of mining companies to leave these areas out of LER. However, the government must remember that it was voted to power because of its commitment to protecting the tribals from the threat of displacement, and the conservation of ecologically fragile areas in the mineral-rich state,” Shukla said.

“LER is a promising habitat not only for elephants but for leopards, wild dogs, sloth bears, herbivores, etc. Lots of endemic birds are also found in that area. It has good connectivity, and if notified and managed properly, it has the potential to emerge as a major landmark for elephant conservation in the state,” said Meetu Gupta, a member of the State Wildlife Board.

Chhattisgarh has two national parks, three tiger reserves, eight sanctuaries, and one biosphere reserve covering 11,310.977 sq km, which is 8.36% of the state’s total geographical area and 18.92 % of the state’s total forest area of 59,772 sq km.

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