Tigers and the city of black gold
Sadiq Naqvi and Akash Bisht Chandrapur
After the overnight train journey from Delhi, we finally reached the ‘City of Black Gold’, Chandrapur. The railway station of this Northern Maharashtra town was unusually clean, unlike so many other places where the railway platforms literally resemble a garbage dump.
The region, known as Chanda during the days of the Raj, is the centre of the coal belt in Maharashtra. The Brits had great difficulty in pronouncing ‘Chandrapur’, hence the name Chanda. Hoardings and billboards informed us of the presence of big mining public sector player, the Western Coalfields limited. This second largest coal producer of the country has several captive mines in the region. With coal reserves in abundance, the city also boasts of a super thermal power station. Located on the outskirts of the city, this 2500 MW station accounts for 25 per cent of the power generation in Maharashtra.
Interestingly, the genesis of the controversial Coalgate scam too had its roots in Chandrapur and it was BJP’s MP Hansaraj Aheer who blew the lid over the way the auctioned coalmines were being sold to other private players. Since 2005, Aheer had written a series of letters to the PMO and other concerned departments on the irregularities in mining.
The smog in the air, trucks moving like ants on the forest floor, huge chimneys emitting smokes that turned into clouds and the sirens bear testimony to the thriving coal industry in the city. Our eyes became watery with pollutants in the air and it seemed difficult to even breathe. The entire city has mines running below the surface and some of the residents do believe that the city might just collapse some day.
Respite would come only when we would reach the forest guest house. Although situated in the middle of this extremely polluted city, the Ram Bagh forest colony is like an oasis of sorts. With an abundance of trees, one would feel as if this place was in the middle of a dense forest.
Not far away from the city is one of the most celebrated tiger reserves of the country –Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve. Known for its healthy population of tigers, TATR has an excellent forest cover of Teak and Bamboo, amongst other fauna. Despite the immense mining pressure in its vicinity, TATR remains untouched by this growing obsession for coal. Recent foray by the Adani group to mine coal in the buffer forest were stalled by the forest officials and conservationists. There are more than 70 villages in the buffer forests where humans and animals have co-existed for centuries. Some of the tribal communities even worship predators simply out of fear.
As night falls, terror stalks the residents of villages who live in the forests adjoining TATR. The fear of man eating tigers and leopards haunts this pristine landscape and several villagers narrated stories of how their loved ones were dragged away by the beast that rules these forests. Several people have fallen prey to this predator that fears nothing.