In 2020, the Tamil Nadu Forest Department proposed to reduce the size of the sanctuary by 40% to facilitate commercial use.

Egrets on an island in Vedanthangal in Tamil NaduWikimedia Commons|Karthik Easvur
news Wildlife & Environment Thursday, December 16, 2021 - 21:03

A contentious move to reduce the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary’s size has been withdrawn by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department. The Forest Department, in 2020, had received a proposal to cut down the sanctuary’s size by 40% to facilitate commercial use. The denotified land was to be opened up to industries to set up shop. However, in a letter to Supriya Sahu, the state’s Principal Secretary Environment Climate Change & Forests, on December 15, Chief Wildlife Warden Dr Shekhar Kumar Niraj informed that this proposal be considered “withdrawn forever”, “keeping the ecological security and habitat ecology” in mind.

Vedanthangal, declared as a bird sanctuary in 1936 in Tamil Nadu, is known as the oldest one in India, the letter added. The sanctuary was notified as RF (Reserve Forest) in 1963 under the Madras Act 1882. Finally in 1998, the sanctuary was notified under section 26(i) of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, the letter stated.

“Bird census conducted year after year indicated the presence of 28,000 land and water birds visiting this prestigious wildlife sanctuary. Hence, it is felt that if the existing boundary of the sanctuary is reduced, the biodiversity and integrity of the sanctuary as by the water bird habitat will be adversely affected, which may result in the reduction of water birds and the water regime itself. Hence such a proposal may be of bad consequences,” the letter clearly states.

Denotifying buffer zone

The sanctuary consists of 29.51 hectares of the Vedanthangal lake and 5 km of revenue land around the lake. This was notified as the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary on July 8, 1998. The 2020 proposal wanted the 5 km revenue land around the lake to be cut down to 3 km.  The first 1 km zone may be notified as a core zone, including the lake. The next 2 km boundary be notified as buffer zone and the outer 2 kms be de-notified, the proposal suggested.

Further, the State Board for Wildlife had cleared this proposal to redraw the boundary of the sanctuary and it was sent to the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) in 2020. One pharma company — Sun Pharmaceuticals had plans to expand their industry within the sanctuary area, if the denotification was approved. The pharma company’s factory is located 3.72 kms away from the Vedanthangal lake. In its expansion plan, which was rejected by the Tamil Nadu government, the company stated that it wished to expand its existing plant set up in the 1960s.

Although the company maintained that it had zero liquid discharge, several farmers in and around the sanctuary alleged that their water sources had been contaminated by effluent discharge from the plant over the years. Farming in villages such as Malaipalayam was stopped as the soil quality and water took a hit due to industrial activity in the region.

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