5 villages want to be excluded from Hastinapur sanctuary

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The Bijnor forest department has received seven objections by five villages along the Ganga, demanding an exclusion from the Hastinapur Wildlife Sanctuary (HWLS).

A demarcation process began last year and villagers were asked to give their objections.

According to the villagers, several restrictions, including a ban on river mining and small-scale industry, will come into force following the notification.

Elaborating on the opposition by villagers, Bijendra Singh, a resident of Ravali village, said: “The swift current of the Ganga has eroded most of our agricultural land along its banks. There is no other means of livelihood in our village. There are several restrictions here because of the sanctuary. There is no industry either. Most of the people are jobless.”

Another villager said: “The forest authority did not pay heed to our grievances. If our villages had been excluded, some development would have taken place here.”

However, the forest department says the exclusion of the villages is not possible.

Anil Kumar Patel, the Bijnor Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), said: “We have decided not to exclude these villages as there is a criterion of exclusion which these areas do not meet. For instance, swamp deer movement has been recorded in the area.”

The wildlife sanctuary comprises the five districts of Bijnor, Muzaffarnagar, Amroha, Meerut and Hapur, spanning 2,073 square-kilometres along both sides of the Ganga.

The government has proposed to reduce it to 1,094 square-kilometre.

Earlier, there were 274 villages within the sanctuary area in Bijnor.

Under the proposed demarcation, this has been reduced to 142 villages, the DFO said.

Pointing out that rationalisation of HWLS is a long overdue process, wildlife activist and NGT lawyer Gaurav Bansal said: “The restructuring of the sanctuary’s borders has been done by Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India using scientific methods with an aim to protect wildlife ecology. The objecting villagers have the right to move court to demand exclusion. However, animals, too, have rights and need to be safeguarded.”

In October 2020, the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) had recommended rationalisation of HWLS, a crucial step towards the final notification pending for the last 34 years.

In 1986, the government had issued a primary notification declaring Hastinapur forest area a sanctuary.

However, no final government order notifying the 2,073 square-kilometre area as a protected zone was issued.

Therefore, the area does not enjoy the protection needed to check poaching and various other threats to the wildlife.

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