Saturday, July 25, 2020

Unwelcome airport in a tiger corridor in Maharashtra

Wheels within wheels and shadowy politics. That is what one comes across in the villages of Vihirgaon, Murti, Morwa and Kanhargaon in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region. And at the centre of it all is a proposed greenfield airport at Vihirgaon and Murti in Chandrapur district, which will result in the loss of a virgin reserve forest and a vital tiger corridor and pose a danger to a sanctuary that has been proposed in the neighbourhood.

The proposal to build an airport in Chandrapur goes back to 2014. It was only in 2018 that the State government gave the nod for the project in the two villages, which are about 40 kilometres away from Chandrapur city. At the time, the General Administration Department issued a notification appointing the Maharashtra Airport Development Corporation (MADC) the nodal agency for the project. The government had approved 134 hectares of land it owned to be handed over to the MADC and sanctioned Rs.46 crore to acquire 187 ha of private land. The plan was to first develop an airport capable of handling Q-400 planes (basically, turboprops for shorter flights), then expand it so that it could handle A-320s and, ultimately, make it an international airport.

Murti and Vihirgaon are in Rajura taluk, which is known for its dense forest with a healthy population of wildlife such as leopards, tigers and sloth bears. In fact, the region has the highest density of tigers in India. The 2015 census of tigers found that 120 of Maharashtra’s 170 tigers were in Chandrapur district. Good conservation measures resulted in an increase in their numbers in 2018 to 312, the majority of them in Chandrapur. The famed Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve buffer zone is just 38 km away, the Chaprala Wildlife Sanctuary is 32 km away and the proposed Kanhargaon Wildlife Sanctuary is next to the airport site. In fact, Vihirgaon and Murti are both part of the tiger corridor according to a report of the Wildlife Institute of India. Because of the interconnectedness of ecosystems, the Kawal and Indravati Tiger Reserves in Telangana and Chhattisgarh respectively will also feel the impact of an airport in Chandrapur.
25/07/20 Lyla Bavadam/Frontline
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