The Kolhapur regional office of the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) has renewed an iron ore mining licence at Kalne village in the contentious Dodamarg-Sawantwadi belt, a Right to Information (RTI) Act response received by environmental group Vanashakti has revealed.
The Bombay high court (HC) in 2013, based on 2011 petition by Awaaz Foundation, had directed the Union environment ministry and state government to ensure that the corridor is protected as an ecologically-sensitive area (ESA), where mining and red-category industries are prohibited and need to be phased out. The HC had reiterated its order in 2018, based on Vanashakti’s petition in 2016, declaring the entire belt as a ‘no tree-felling zone’. Based on the HC order, the forest department had recently approved a study worth ₹83 lakh, directing the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, to assess the exact boundaries of the ESA and analyse the presence of tiger and elephant movements.
According to the RTI response, MPCB has issued the consent to renew operations to handle 7.5 lakh metric tonnes of iron ore for a year till March 31, 2021, across the 32.25-hectare (ha) area at Kalne, falling in Dodamarg taluka of Sindhudurg district.
The area forms a part of the corridor that connects the Radhanagari Wildlife Sanctuary in Kolhapur to Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary in Karnataka.
Based on the RTI response, Vanashakti collated satellite images, accessed photographs of the site and filed a complaint on Saturday with various state bodies, including the environment department, urging them to revoke the permissions given, as it risks the safety of the corridor, which is home to a large biodiversity.
“The entire 32.2-ha green cover has been destroyed due to mining operations. The change in topography shows the extent of destruction to this crucial wildlife corridor caused by the mining body, with the blessing of MPCB. Satellite imagery shows tree felling at the Kalne mine area, even as MPCB’s renewal for mining operations is in defiance of the prohibitory order imposed by the HC,” said Stalin D, director, Vanashakti.
MPCB said the mining body had begun operations in 2009 after acquiring environment clearance, following which the first license to operate was issued.
“This was an existing mine before the petition in the HC. Renewal consent was approved by the previous regional officer as there is no stay on existing industries. However, following the moratorium issued for Dodamarg taluka based on the HC directive, no new red-category units or project expansions have been approved by us,” said Ravindra Andhale, regional officer (Kolhapur), MPCB
A senior officer from the state forest department said, “Prohibited activities at any area proposed as an ESA includes complete ban on mining, quarrying and sand mining. The phasing out of existing mines within five years of ESA proposal, and all other red category industries including thermal power plants are to be banned.”
Though the entire Dodamarg taluka was left out of the Western Ghats draft ESA, forest minister Sanjay Rathod said the state was examining the details of the HC order and the matter was yet to be considered by chief minister Uddhav Thackeray.
Biodiversity at stake
As per petitions submitted before the HC, the corridor is home to tigers, leopards, elephants, sloth bears, civets, pangolins, several resident and migratory bird species, and the Indian giant squirrel, which is Maharashtra’s state animal. The forest department confirmed that over the past five years, transient movement of around 25 tigers has been observed at the corridor, while an elephant family of five reside there.