Nagpur: Greens aye Vidarbhawith forests intact

NAGPUR: Will Vidarbha be a viable state? Greens say yes, but feel that a lot will depend on how it is projected. The past experience has been bad as leaders have lacked vision and courage. The statehood demand has been fuelled after Congress green-signalled Telangana. TOI talked to leading conservationists and environmentalists who were cautious whether the new state would be self-reliant. They said experience of new states like Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh showed they were overexploiting natural resources. This was dangerous, they said.

Kishor Rithe, president of Satpuda Foundation, said Vidarbha’s forest richness and not just mineral richness would have to be considered in view of climate change concerns. Rithe thoughtlessly sanctioned mining and dam projects in the new state would make it lose forest cover which was not advisable. Green technology and some better irrigation alternatives could actually provide power and irrigation respectively.

Some states import raw material and produce finished products for sale domestically or overseas. “I see no wisdom in this,” Rithe said. The conservationist said Vidarbha no doubt had many strengths. It was famous for oranges and cotton. It held two-thirds of Maharashtra’s mineral resources, three quarters of its forest resources and is a power-surplus region. The region always remained calm during communal troubles. Yet, it is economically backward compared to rest of Maharashtra.

If Vidarbha gets separated, its 11 districts will have geographical area of 96,097 sq km with a population of over 2.06 crore. Of this, 37,251 sq km will be forest cover. Vidarbha’s Nagpur and Amravati revenue divisions presently occupy 31.6% of the total area and hold 21.3% of total population of Maharashtra.

Vidarbha would be a viable state only if leaders and policy-makers, who were forcing urban and rural ‘development model’ on tribals in forested districts for the past 60 years change their vision. The rigid policies have resulted in migration of tribal youths to cities to such an extent that tribal development department was now unable to spend its budget, he said.

Prof Nishikant Mukherjee, managing director of Tiger Environment Centre (TEC), a global NGO working for environment and tiger protection, felt Vidarbha could be a successful state if projected properly. Today, tourism was the second biggest industry in the world after oil and energy, he said. Vidarbha was a tiger country with a large number of sanctuaries and reserves. “The region can earn Rs 7,000 crore annually if it markets tourism potential. Last year 6 million foreign tourists visited Taj Mahal and India’s tiger destinations. If we managed to get 10% of them, Vidarbha can be self-sufficient. If small states like Kerala and Chhattisgarh are doing ok, why can’t we?” he asked.

“If you look at the value chain of Vidarbha. It supplies cheap labour and raw material to entire state. It’s like a colony which gives everything to rest of Maharashtra but gets meagre benefits in lieu for its big support,” said Prof Mukherjee.

Vidarbha had rich forests that are non-performing assets as of now. It did not mean that development should be at the cost of forests but they should be converted into economic assets, specially as carbon sinks that world values. However, important point is vision, strong leadership and courage, he added.

Conservationist Prafulla Bhamburkar, assistant manager of Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) felt, there should be a debate on statehood and mass public support should be rallied. Both things were lacking now. The region had 56% of the state’s forest and in a separate state, forests should not become target of new development.

Vidarbha’s forests should be used to get carbon credits and should be encashed through eco-tourism and not given away for mines and dams. “It shouldn’t happen that while state is carved out, leaders will retain 33% of forest cover as per the National Forest Policy 1988 and divert remaining forests for mining and other detrimental projects,” he stressed.

Bhamburkar wanted Vidarbha state but by keeping forests intact. He was cautious about the demand as leaders did not look beyond self-gains and lacked vision.

From TOI

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