Save the Niyamgiri Hills

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Dear Friends

This is an appeal to all right thinking and environmentally conscious citizens to rally to the cause of saving Niyamgiri Hill, one of the most important biodiversity hotspot in the Eastern Ghats of Orissa. The top of this hill is proposed to be mined by Vedanta Alumina Ltd, a subsidiary of Sterlite India ltd for Bauxite which will be used for their 1 million tonne alumina refinery to be set up in Lanjigarh, a Schedule V area.

789907878_2056f304911.jpgNiyamgiri Hills, named after the Niyamraja, the main deity of the Donagria Kondhs, are one of last untouched wildernesses of Orissa. Rising to a height of more than four thousand feet, it is the source of Vamshadhara river as well as major tributaries of Nagavali rivers. Niyamgiris form a distinct phytogeographical zone because of its height and its highly precipitous topography . It has some of the most pristine forests in Orissa. Niyamgiri flora is of ‘great phyto-geographical importance’ as the hilltops harbor high altitude plants with Himalayan/North Indian and Nilgiri/South Indian elements. Preliminary studies show that it has approximately 50 species of important medicinal plants, about 20 species of wild ornamental plants, and more than 10 species of wild relatives of crop plants such as sugarcane (protected under the International Undertaking on Plant Genetic Resources (Rome, 23 November 1983).

Niyamgiri hills are home to a number of vulnerable wildlife species including tiger, leopards, elephant, sloth bear, pangolin, palm civet, giant squirrel, mouse deer and sambhar, etc, most of which are in the IUCN red list of endangered species. It is also a part of migration corridor of elephants between forests of Kondhmals and of Kalahandi/Koraput. Niyamgiri hills are also home for rare birds like Hill Myna and Hornbill and are one of the few habitats in Orissa for the King Cobra. Recently, the Golden Gecko has been discovered for the first time in Orissa from the Niyamgiri hill which happens to be the only known habitat in the state.

The Golden gecko (Callodactylodes aureus) is of special interest to world herpetologists as it represents one of two known genus Callodactylodes, who are considered as Gondwanan relics. This gecko is one of the rarest lizards of India, endemic to Eastern Ghats and is found in only one another site in AP. Due to its extremely rare status, this lizard is classified in the Schedule I to the Wildlife Protection Act. In addition this a species of large termite hill gecko (Hemidactlyus subtriedrus) share the same habitat. This again is the first record of this species from Orissa.

During a brief herpetological survey of three days a green Pit viper was found which could be a new species or sub species of pit viper from India, since this could not be matched with existing pit viper records of India. The travancore wolf snake which was last reported from Orissa by the British herpetologists in pre independence era has also been rediscovered from here recently. A species of skink which was hitherto unreported in any published literature could be a new report.

In view of its ecological importance, Niyamgiri hill was declared as nature conservation / game sanctuary by the erstwhile King of Kalahandi and was proposed as a Wild Life Sanctuary in the working plan of Kalahandi Forest Division. The State Wildlife organization ha also proposed to declare this area as South Orissa Elephant Reserve as mentioned in the vide memo no. 4643/3WL(Cons)34/04 dated 20.08.2004.

The ecological importance of the Niyamgiri forests has been recognized even by an expert team. The Central Empowered Committee set up by the Supreme Court of India had sent a Fact Finding Expert Team to carry out an inspection who in their report dated 14.1.2005 also expressed their concern over the mining and recommended for alternate option of sourcing bauxite ore. To quote their report: “Any mining in this area is bound to destroy the biodiversity. Under these circumstances, alternative sources of ore should be explored for the Project.” (Findings of the team (iv), Fact Finding team Report).

The ecological diversity in the Niyamgiri hills is linked to the hundreds of perennial streams flowing from these hills, even though Kalahandi is one of the most perennially drought prone areas in the country. Most of these emerge from just below the bauxite deposit on the top of the mountains, providing suitable microclimates for diverse flora and fauna. The Niyamgiri Hill is sacred to the Dongaria Kondhs, a unique primitive tribal group found only in the Niyamgiri Hills. This tribe which is no less important that the endangered Jarawas of the Andamans is on the brink of extinction since the 2001 census reveals a total population of around 7,500 only. They consider the mountaintop of the Niyamgiri as inviolate and protect the forests on the top as “Kaman” forests, where their god Niyamraja Penu resides .

The ecological and cultural sacredness of Niyamgiri is threatened by the proposed bauxite mining by Vedanta Alumina Ltd. The area is going to be destroyed even before a complete documentation of its biodiversity wealth is carried out. The Company has already partly constructed its factory just below the Niyamgiri hill and is waitingfor the environmental and forest clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests, GOI. The mining of the hill top involving heavy equipment and blasting would destroy the rich wildlife and its habitat completely. Many endangered species of flora would disappear even before documentation. Influx of outsiders because of the factoryalready has led to large scale tree felling and habitat disturbance in the Niyamgiri hills. More seriously, the mining of bauxite which retains water, will lead to drying up of all the streams destroying the unique humid micro-niches where many species are found.

We are about to sacrifice this sacred hill with its verdant treasures and destroy the future for the unique Dongaria Kondhs. How can this abominable ecological crime be tolerated in independent India when our Constitution protects and guarantees the tribals the right to livelihood and life with dignity in a Schedule V area? Given its highbiodiversity and its cultural uniqueness, it will be a sacrilege to allow a multinational company to mine this mountain, only to export the alumina and aluminum to developed countries and China.

We request you to spare a few minutes to write a letter or send an email protesting this proposed criminal despoliation of one of the last bastions of wildlife and biodiversity in Eastern Ghats and write to the following authorities to stop the proposed mining project forthwith. Please also share this message with other concerned people and organization.

Yours sincerely,

S K Pattanaik, Bhubaneswar

Sidharth Nayak, Bhawanipatna

Ashok Pradhan, Sambalpur

Members,

Environmental Protection Group, Orissa

List of persons to write to:

Her Excellency Mrs Pratibha Patil

Honourable President of India,

Rashtrapati Bhavan,

New Delhi- 110 001

[email protected]

Dr. Manmohan Singh,

Honourable Prime Minister of India,

South Block,

New Delhi- 110 001

[email protected]

Hon’ble Governor of Orissa,

Raj Bhavan,

Bhubaneswar, Orissa.

Fax Nos: +91 674 2536582, 2536581, 2536584

A. Raja

Union Minister

Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) Paryavaran Bhawan CGO Complex, Lodi Road

New Delhi – 110 003.

[email protected]

Mr. Naveen Patnaik,

Chief Minister, Government of Orissa and Minister, Forest & Environment, GOO,

Secretariat,

Bhubaneswar

[email protected]

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