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Karlapat: Sanctuary's safety projects are kibosh
Karlapat is under threat. The nature loving local tribesmen of Karlapat today demand that the Karlapat wildlife sanctuary should be protected instead and the area should be developed through eco-tourism only. That Karlapat doesn’t deserve to be depleted and denuded for its bauxite exploitation. The locals have taken a vow not to surrender Karlapat in exchange for its bauxite deposits.
Karlapat sanctuary has 10 Revenue villages and 9 un-surveyed villages with a total population of 1551. The inhabitants are mainly tribal, namely Kutia, Kandha and Majhi. Rain-fed agriculture is the main source of income for these agrarian tribal communities. While paddy is their major crop, they also cultivate black gram, alsi and maize as cash crops on the foot-hills and plateaux of the hills in and around the sanctuary.

Many of the communities make a livelihood by collecting hill brooms, bamboo sticks and different minor forest produces like fruits, roots, gums, leaves, fuel wood and small timber for their own consumption as well as to sell in the nearby market. Besides these 19 villages, there are 62 villages adjacent to the Sanctuary. Population of these villages is about 14,000.

The people have realized the importance of their habitat and hearth. Says Jagabandhu Nayak, the ward member of Karlapat, “I am striving to spread the message for saving my mother hill and our god Khanduala and goddess Dokri. I will not allow it to turn into a desert. I am prepared to leave politics. I would prefer to die than to surrender my mother hill to their plunderers”.

Giridhar Durga and Makaradhar too express the same anger and anguish. Makaradhar thunders, “I will not allow it to be plundered as long as I am alive. The great values of humanity have survived here and would survive forever. We will see that the unlawful file of the state government is buried finally. I  will not allow the inhuman practice of raising bauxite since hundreds of landless tribals have been living  here in peace. The government and the company would give money in compensation to families holding land. But it will ultimately push the hundreds of landless people to deprivation and death. We will, come what may, never allow the destruction of Karlapat in name of development”.

The government, in case it ignores the voice raised by the inhabitants of Karlapat and prefers to kill innocent people, it will sound the death knell for an elected government. All the forest rules will be consigned to jungle flames. At least this is what Ginu and Jagabandhu express –

“While there is a strong movement by primitive tribal groups against mining of bauxite reserved in the Niyamgiri, Odisha Government’s recent move to make a plan for mining of bauxite reserves in the Karlapat Sanctuary area has been strongly condemned by environmentalists on the plea that the proposed mining would not only take one of the rich biodiversity towards destruction but would also invite ecological disaster and cause serious trouble for thousands of tribal families who earn their livelihood out of the forests and rain-fed agriculture. When people are not prepared to sacrifice Niyamgiri, naturally it is impossible for Karlapat. The flora and fauna of Khanduala, Krishna and Betakota are mainly dependent upon the streams flowing in the region. The sources of water would dry up apart from getting polluted and the streams would also change the courses,” rues journalist Rajanikanta Mishra.

Mishra added, “High plateau and waterfalls attract tourists to study and enjoy the nature. Karlapat boasts for its Elephant population and serves as a crucial elephant corridor linking Kotagarh Sanctuary in Kandhamal district with the Lakhari valley sanctuary in Gajapati district. There are 4 routes (corridors) used by the Elephants as their path for migration. All these put together means the annihilation of Karlapat.”

The Naveen Pattanaik government, it is alleged, has shadily and in a clandestine manner, changed the original forest management plan to facilitate exploitation of bauxite deposits in Khanduala , Krishna  and Betakota hill areas. The limits of Khanduala and Krishna hills stretch one to three kilometers beyond the limits of the Karlapat sanctuary. These have been declared as eco sensitive zones. That was why the joint MNC BHP Bilton had to withdraw in 2005 after its attempt to exploit Karlapats bauxite deposits failed. The locals had raised their voices against the government and the BHP Bilton.

Wildlife expert Dr. Biswajit Mohanty alleged that the Orissa Government has been under pressure from various companies to denotify a portion of the Karlapat Wildlife Sanctuary and redraw its boundaries keeping in mind the rich bauxite deposits of the adjacent Khandualmalli hill.

Mohanty said, “The bauxite mafias want the State Government to push back the boundary by a few kilometers to overcome the legal hurdles in getting environmental clearances for operating these mines. If the mafias succeed, it would be the first such case in Orissa where a notified wildlife sanctuary's boundary has been redrawn to help a mining company.The proximity of the Karlapat Wildlife Sanctuary to the mines is posing a legal impediment to the mining plans as the borders of the sanctuary are within two to three km from the bauxite reserves. The Environment Protection Act, 1986, treats an area of up to 10 km from the border of any sanctuary or National Park as ‘eco-sensitive’ where no developmental or industrial activities are permitted. This rule was reiterated in the National Wildlife Strategy, 2002, which was approved by the then Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee. The Supreme Court has also endorsed in several cases concerning mining near sanctuaries and National Parks that no mining or industries should be permitted within 10 km. The watershed of Khandualmali hills drains towards the Karlapat Wildlife Sanctuary and more than 35 streams originate from the hilltop. Wildlife Society of Orissa opposes the move fearing a total collapse of the ecosystem of the sanctuary.”

Sidharth local forest activist says, “The Chief Minister has himself decided to decimate the original eco sensitive zone from 7 kms to 1 km only to ensure that mining is permitted in Karlapat. This is illegal as he does not have any powers to do so. The local Committee set up as per guidelines of the MOEF had clearly recommended a larger limit of 7 kms as that was the area.”

The Zamindar of Karlapat Anup Singhdeo says, “If Govt are so much interested in the development of the area and its people better develop eco-tourism and agriculture. The region is highly fertile and there is plenty of scope for irrigation. Improve roads and provide better education, health and agriculture facilities for the locals. These are much more important for development of the areas than mining activities. The history of my ancestors is associated with Karlapart. And our identity as of today would be recorded in history. Karlapat is my immediate motherland and how can I offer it on a platter for mining activities? Where was the government till date? It is strange that the government is trying to confuse mining with development.”

Complains Lingaraj Azad a human rights activist, “The Chief Minister Naveen Pattnaik, who held the Forests and Environment portfolio had directed to squeeze the area of Karlapat sanctuary by giving orders for delimitation only to facilitate bauxite mining in the region. It is an irony that the state government has no qualms in openly violating these rules only to facilitate mining and help mining mafias. The government has created opportunities for mining from an area beyond one kilometer radius of the sanctuary by squeezing its territory. This would be considered as the most deadliest activity in the forest and environment by any democractic government if it takes places under the BJD Govt. People will raise questions about the honesty and integrity of Naveen’s Government.”

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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