Adani group seeks another 142ha forest land near Nagzira

NAGPUR:The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC), topmost body under MoEFCC which in recent times has been on a forest land diversion spree, is considering another proposal to divert 142 hectares forest land for Adani Power Maharashtra Limited (APML) in Tiroda in Gondia district.

The proposed land is zudpi and protected forest land, equivalent to roughly 103 football fields, and barely 8km from Navegaon-Nagzira Tiger Reserve (NNTR). This is the second forest land diversion since commissioning of the 3,300MW plant in 2013. Earlier, 164 hectares forest was diverted to the power major.

The land is to be used for building ash utilization park and came before FAC on February 28. Environmentalists have opposed the proposed diversion considering the facts that the said extension falls in the wildlife corridor and is close to NNTR. They say it will negatively impact the core area and tigers.

Wildlife expert Kishor Rithe, who was member of the NTCA committee to study impact of 164 hectare forest land diversion in 2010, has urged FAC to reject the proposal stating that fresh diversion will cause pollution and will not only impact residents but also spill over population of tigers and Nagzira adversely.

"It would be a setback for long-term tiger conservation in the region," he added. Even review by Pushp Jain, director of EIA Resource and Response Centre (ERC), Delhi, says Adani proposal underplays biodiversity value of the land and it is also a non-site specific activity. "There is thumb rule that forest land should not be diverted for non-site specific activity," Jain said.

Further, ERC says cost-benefit analysis presented by the user agency doesn't mention loss of non-timber forest products (NTFP), which is shown as nil. "If the forest land is diverted and 1,500 trees chopped down, the NTFPs, which are a source of income for the locals, will also be lost," said Jain. Gondia forest division working plan clarifies that the area has great NTFP diversity such as mahua flower and seed, kullu, dhaoda and salad gums, charoli, hirda, beheda, honey, lac etc.

Gondia deputy conservator Jitendra Ramgaonkar tried to justify the proposed diversion. "The capacity of existing fly ash ponds is exhausted and tonnes of ash was being generated daily. If additional facilities are not created the plant will shut," he added.

Adani thermal power plant generates at least 6,000 tonnes of ash daily but only 300 tonnes is used for brick making and land filling. A German firm plans to set up ash park by investing Rs50-60 crore and sources said this would be first such park in the country.

Roy Paul, general manager (corporate communication), Adani Power, sought a day to give an official version.

Experts point out forest land was being sought despite non-forest land being available. Forest land was being being sought as it would come cheap at only Rs8-9 lakh per hectare, they said.

Ramgaonkar said the land was fragmented and difficult to manage. "To approach it, one has to go through power plant gates. It is also out of NNTR eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) and we have sought Rs 3 crore for wildlife conservation from Adani," he added.

Jain said forest officials were casual about wild animal presence in the site inspection report. One of the animals is mentioned as 'common have', hyena, wild boar, deer etc. Interestingly, there is no animal by name 'common have' and also the use of the word 'etc' is ambiguous.