CONSPIRACY: Even before the Mhadei wildlife sanctuary could be affected by the diversion of the Mhadei river, much of the flora and fauna in the forests have already been deliberately set to flames.

By Rajan Narayan

We are inclined to suspect the hand of the Karnataka government in the fires on Mhadei sanctuary, as it can then claim that no flora and fauna survives in the sanctuary and it has ceased to be a sanctuary.

THE Mhadei and Netravali sanctuaries which are considered one of the world’s biggest bio-diversity spots were notified in 1972. Thanks to the initiatives taken by the then chief conservator of forests, Richard D’Souza. Fortunately for Richard, Goa was under presidential rule with General Jacob, the hero of the Bangladesh war, the governor of Goa.
It was General Jacob who accepted the surrender from the Pakistani General AAK Niyazi in the Bangladesh war. Like Richard, Jacob was also totally committed to preserving the environment of Goa. The reason why this sanctuary was not notified earlier was strong opposition from the Rane family and mining lobbies; for there are a large number of mines in the area.
No mining is permitted within wildlife and natural sanctuaries. Fortunately, a combination of an honest Conservator of Forests Richard D’Souza and a firm Governor General Jacob, the forested water-rich lands of the Mhadei wildlife sanctuary were saved so that wildlife could thrive and live in peace. While bigger wildlife like wild boars can run away, smaller fry creatures like frogs, snakes, small creatures of the wild become victims when a fire breaks out.

IT is shocking that even after a fortnight Minister for Forests Vishwajit Rane has not been able to put an end to the fire outbreaks which continue to rage continuously at Mhadei sanctuary. Just when the fires were being brought under control fresh fires were started in the Netravali forests of the Bhagwan Mahavir Sanctuary which is very close to the Goa zoo. We can imagine what would happen if the fires spread to the Bondla zoo there would be panic in the area with the caged or corralled animals in a panic, because even zoo staff would also be in a hurry ot escape the flames making inroads.
There has a major fire in Sattari, the constituency of the Ranes. There has been some top about converting the whole area into it tiger sanctuary. Presence of tigers and leopards have been reported in the area. Part of the logic is that if a tiger sanctuary were to be set up Goa could argue that the diversion of the Mhadei river headwaters would affect the wildlife because water is a primary resource for both wildlife and human beings.

THERE is an open corridor between the Mhadei wildlife sanctuary and the neighboring Karnataka forest areas and there is a constant movement of wild animals between them. Perhaps Vishwajit thinks that by setting fire to the large part of Sattari he can reserve it for real estate for which there is a boom in Goa.
The pattern of the 500-odd fire breakouts with several of them blazing all over Goa in the last 15 days appears diabolical. The fires inevitably break out on the top of a dongor or hilly place. These are considered the ideal places for developers to come up with new construction as they have a view. There may be a ban on building on slopes. The builders can argue that the hilltops after the forests have burned away are barren and therefore, they should be allowed to get conversion for construction.
The understanding of experts is that the fires have been deliberate and not because of the higher than average temperature that we have been witnessing in the last couple of months. Experience the world over, ranging from Australia to California, show that the minimum temperature has to be above 130°F (55°C). The temperature in Goa is less the 40 degrees.
As Richard D’Souza has pointed out there is a lot of moisture in Goa which prevents spontaneous fires from breaking out. To confirm that the fires have been lit deliberately, a suspect has been arrested in Sattari. The fires have destroyed centuries-old trees and caused enormous damage to wildlife.
An interesting example on how fires are lit for construction purposes is in Taleigao. Fires were lit in Taleigao with the excuse that dry field grass has to be cleared. This is more dangerous because wild grass fires spread very rapidly. The suspicion is that the fires were lit to create space for new constructions in already over-built up area.

A COLLEAGUE whose home is located on a slopping hilltop in Siolim tells me that hill slopes can be very steep. Moreover, the higher reaches are very thickly forested, especially in areas which are the foothills of the Western Ghats of Goa. Hill tops are strictly forested and most outsiders would not be familiar enough with the terrain to find their way up the slopes of hilly areas. This is the logic behind the sound suspicion that locals have been bribed to go up and light the hilltop fires.
What is curious is that there as many as 48 fire breakouts in the last 15 days. The local fire brigade has not been able to put them out because they are on the slopes of hilltops. Similarly, the fires in Mhadei and Netravali wildlife sanctuaries are so intense that the fire brigade is seeking the support of the Navy and the Air Force to literally drop water bombs on the raging spreading fires. As we write this the fires are still raging.
We hope that the Central government will order a CBI inquiry to put Forests Minister Vishwajit Rane in CBI custody, as they have done Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi Manish Sisodia.

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