The forest department has postponed a public hearing of stakeholders at Chorao on the proposal to declare the Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary as a critical wildlife habitat (CWH) after villagers threatened to boycott it, demanding that the interaction be held on a Sunday.
The department had earlier scheduled the meeting for Friday, September 24. “We will announce the date of the next hearing later,” said Debendra Dalai, deputy conservator of forest, wildlife and eco tourism.
The islanders were unhappy about the interaction being scheduled for a weekday. “The chief wildlife warden has fixed the public hearing on a weekday (September 24). The working population will be denied the opportunity to participate,” said Esperance Rodrigues, convenor of Chorao civic and consumer forum.
Pointing out that the villagers could not understand why the forest department was in a hurry to expedite the process, Rodrigues said the forum had urged forest minister Filipe Neri Rodrigues to reschedule the meeting or face a no-show from the locals.
Sarpanch of the Chorao-Madel panchayat Pandurang Bandodkar has also urged the authorities to fix the interaction on a Sunday. Earlier, the gram sabha had passed a resolution requesting the government not to bypass villagers but brief them about the details of the proposal.
Last year, the forest department had initiated the process of declaring all wildlife sanctuaries in the state as critical wildlife habitats. The first of the stakeholder meetings had been held at Chorao regarding CWH status to the Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary and the adjoining mangrove areas of Chorao. However, the public hearing of the state-level expert committee to hear the objections and suggestions of islanders in the context of their rights on September 15, last year, fizzled out for various reasons.
The villagers raised an issue over the lack of information regarding the proposal and also the insufficient arrangements to hold the hearing at a venue near the ferry ramp at Chorao. “Only 25 persons could sit in the forest department’s office while there were around 100 persons who had to stand outside,” a Chorao resident said.
Although, the forest department had assured that the CWH status would not have any impact on the islanders, the villagers were apprehensive over the likelihood of a buffer zone being carved around the sanctuary as proposed in RP 2021. However, forest department officials had assured that not a metre of land beyond the existing bird sanctuary limits would be touched.