A 2009 Google Earth image of Gharap, a nearly 2km stretch along the eco-sensitive Sawantwadi-Dodamarg wildlife corridor in the Western Ghats, shows a vast expanse of green. But time series satellite images of the area over the last few years, up until 2015, show gross levels of deforestation. Much of the green cover in the region can be seen to have turned brown.
Environmentalist D Stalin of the NGO Vanashakti, who has long championed the protection of the Western Ghats, has petitioned the authorities over the deforestation matter, using Google Earth images. Deforestation in the region is in direct violation of a 2012 Bombay high court order, which prohibited the felling of trees in the Sawantwadi-Dodamarg corridor.
“This region admittedly is a crucial wildlife corridor, used by big cats like the tiger and also by other Schedule 1 animals listed under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act. Some of these animals are moving from Anshi Dandeli to Radhanagiri. Some are residents of these forests. Deforestation will only increase man-wildlife conflict and spell doom for water security in the region,” wrote Stalin in a letter to the deputy conservator of forests, Sawantwadi, the chief conservator of forests, Kolhapur, and Maharashtra’s forest secretary, apprising them of the situation.
While he had earlier written to them about massive deforestation in Udeli village in the region, his recent letter says, “We find that an even worse situation is unfolding at Gharap village in the same region.”
“We received information from villagers that investors from Kerala are trying to replace the forest with rubber plantations. They have fenced in the region with barbed wire and placed ferocious dogs on their ‘properties’ so that they are hard to access. Despite orders from the judiciary, the government machinery has, time and again, failed to protect the region,” Stalin told that a number of rivers originate in the region. “Clearing the forests will affect water security in the area.”
Sindhudurg collector Anil Bhandari informed that he was not aware of the issue, but would find out about it and take strict action.
MK Rao, chief conservator of forests, Kolhapur, said that of the 50% tree cover in Sawantwadi, only 10% falls under the forest department. “We are monitoring the forest with 50 people,” he said, pointing to the need for further involvement of all authorities in preventing deforestation. “We have brought this to the notice of the collector of Sindhudurg.”