Press on Environment and Wildlife
Dudhwa rail track triggers ecology vs tourism debate (May Week #5 (2013))
Railways' decision to enhance Dudhwa's rail network may be aimed at giving wildlife tourism a boost, but it is likely to make animals lose their peace. The metre gauge line that runs through the national park is a part of the Mailani-Bahraich rail track
which would be taken up for a gauge conversion survey. The metre gauge line, at present, has six pair of trains running on it, two pairs being Express trains. But, with the Mailani-Bahraich track being recommended for a gauge conversion survey, the number
of trains passing through the wildlife area would increase in years to come.


A river runs dry (May Week #5 (2013))
Named after the otters it once hosted, the perennial Udnhaim River in Dabal, the main source of irrigation for large tracts of horticultural and agricultural lands in the Kirlapal-Dabal panchayat area, is fast drying up.

Worried locals say this year's declined flow has confounded them. "In the past the drop in water level was blamed on mining activities, but since October 2012 there has been a ban on mining, yet the level is low. We can't understand it," says former sarpanch
Ramakant Gaonkar. He says it's been so bad this year that villagers have had to request a private mining company to release water stored in their bandharas so that the farms and plantations didn't dry up.


Difference in methodology renders fresh wildlife census report futile (Issue of the week, May Week #3 (2013))
Although the Haryana forest department released a fresh wildlife census report on May 6, it is still not comparable with previous years’ data owing to the use of a different methodology.

The wildlife census report of 2012, released in March, had adopted a new evidence-based methodology. Unlike the previous years, when the census was conducted division-wise, this year it was focused on forest areas only.

“This is why we cannot compare the present data with the previous years’ data as the methodology was different. The method used in 2007 was occupancy-based and not density-based. No one can say if the wildlife has increased or decreased in the Aravali,”
said Bilal Habib, a scientist at WII. Explaining the reason behind adopting the new methodology, Kumar said: “This survey was evidence-based and not an absolute one. For instance, it is very difficult to trace carnivores as they come out only at night. Hence,
we could only gauge their presence in a particular area through their pug marks and other signs, and not provide a fixed number of the species. Moreover, the absolute method is time-consuming and very expensive,” said Kumar.


Dredging, illegal fishing hurting dolphin numbers (May Week #3 (2013))
Experts said the survey during monsoon registered maximum sightings of dolphins in river Yamuna between Panchnada in Etawah upto Sangam in Allahabad, approximately 400 kms stretch out of the total course of the river.

Environmentalists are worried over the rampant use of dredgers by the district irrigation department, which has led to acute water scarcity in the river, posing serious threat to aquatic animals, particularly the Gangetic Dolphin.

The population of the endangered Gangetic Dolphin in India today is only about 2,000 individuals spread over the rivers of the Gangetic basin and the Brahmaputra river system.

Gangetic dolphins, India's national aquatic animal, are killed at an alarming rate by poachers for their flesh as well as oil, which is used as an ointment and considered an aphrodisiac. Their carcasses are regularly found on the river banks.

The Gangetic river dolphin is one of the four freshwater dolphin species in the world. The other three are found in the Yangtze river in China, the Indus river in Pakistan and the Amazon river in South America.

The mammal is covered under the Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act and has been declared an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

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Environment ministry panel flouts rules to clear mining projects within Saranda forest (May Week #3 (2013))
The environment ministry's statutory expert panel, the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC), has bypassed its rules and earlier orders to clear iron mining projects by three private firms in the country's best sal forest and the core zone of the elephant reserve
in the Saranda forest division of Jharkhand.

In what could threaten UPA's much-touted Saranda Development Plan to counter Left Wing Extremism, the Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure (CCI) — headed by the PM — has given its stamp of approval to the two firms and now nod for the third company seems
a mere formality.

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Tribals set to decide Vedanta project’s fate (May Week #3 (2013))
The tribal affairs ministry has moved with alacrity to order the Odisha government to ensure the tribals can vote freely. It has asked the Naveen Patnaik government to ensure all villages, which express their rights in the contentious zone, are identified
and given the opportunity to decide the project's fate. 

Any curb on gram sabha powers through interpretation of the law or restricting the number of gram sabhas, who would get to vote, is perceived as a major challenge in the backdrop of heavy state 'bandobast' and the judicial monitoring that the apex court
has ordered. 

Environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan had scored brownie points with the Congress leadership by deftly handling the case, using the innovative ploy of religious rights to defend the UPA's decision to block Vedanta's mining rather than the norms that
empower tribal gram sabhas to reject projects that impinge on their forests. Using the latter defense would have spelt trouble for the government, which has allowed several other projects on forestland without seeking similar gram sabha clearances. 

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