Onkareshwar – A National Park in Waiting

I am in Khandwa. The district has good forest. I am keen to visit some wildlife area. There is no well known National Park, Wildlife Sanctuary or Tiger Reserve around. What to do? Where to go?

My forester friend suggests I can visit Onkareshwar National Park with small detour, while I go back to Indore to take flight to Delhi.  This is a proposed national park.

Ideal time to go to forest is early morning or evening to be able to spot some animals and have correct light for photography as well. In prime protected areas, there are fix times for safari in morning and evening. This never works out is non-hardcore wildlife areas. We leave after breakfast i.e. around 9.30.

By the time we are in the region of the Onkareshwar, it is 11 am! The local forester with us tells me, “Sir, there are leopard, wild boar, cheetal (spotted deer), sambar, nilgai (blue bull – antelope), Chosingha (four-horned antelope) to count few main mammals which are usually sighted in the Park but it’s not the right time of the day for wildlife viewing.” I entirely agree and am not expected to see even a rat. Nevertheless, going around the forest itself is a pleasure and raises my spirit.

We arrive on the bridge on Narmada with dam on the right and little water flowing down stream in main river course, followed by Power House with larger part of water from the reservoir coming out from the turbines and passing down the channel.  This is Narmada Hydro Electric Project with Indira Sagar reservoir behind it. This dam has drowned more that 400 sq km of pristine forests upstream!

What we are visiting is part of the remaining forest on the bank of the reservoir. We are driving on a new highway to Bhopal developed due to the Project. This is not widely used road though one day it would have good amount of traffic – bane of the National Park and wildlife therein. On both side of the road is teak forest. We enter the forest on the right side about 5-6 km down the Dam at Kaladev. Just 200 m away is Kaladev Forest Guard Camp.

This is a kuchcha track. Forest is thick – in technical term the density of 0.6/0.7! Teak (Tectona grandis) is the dominant species. It’s dry deciduous forest.  Regeneration is good. The forester informs me, “there are very few spotted deer!” That is shocking.

weed-covering-the-ground

Soon I notice the reason, there is very little grasses – whole ground flora is entirely weedy. This is an irony – a medicinal plant, Van Tulsi (Ocimum gratissimum), has become a weed and is of no use to herbivore! I see all open areas full of Van Tulsi.

Second reason is brought to my notice by local forester is Tendu (Diospyros melanoxylon) leaf. Fresh flush of leaves from young plants at the ground level are collected. This is major minor-forest-produce in Central India. The leaf is used to make India cigarette called ‘bidi’ – dry and crushed tobacco leaf is rolled into the Tendu leaf and folded at ends.

Tendu leaf is collected in summer. To facilitate collection, the ground flora is set on fire and burnt, leaving nothing to eat for grazing animals e.g. spotted deer. Though this burning is illegal but the contractors for the collection of leaf do this invariably and without fail. The staff is never able to catch the culprit. They just run around to extinguish fire at one place while the contractor /collectors set the other area on fire. This fire is devastating – ground flora is lost, micro-organisms and even some reptiles and small mammals are killed, regeneration of trees too is affected. Besides, the sight is repelling.

Soon we notice, a newly white washed another forest guard camp. This is Mathni – previously a village site, which was shifted because of submergence in the Indira Sagar. The water has receded as the reservoir is not filled to full capacity of 262.13 metre.  We can see the water sheet about half a km away. Fresh grass is growing in the receded portion of the reservoir. Conspicuous in this landscape is remains of massive Banyan tree – main stem still erect while huge dead branches are scattered around. We hear some animals stampeding – oh, cattle! The forester informs, “This is feral cattle, being of no use to villagers, was left behind when they left the village.” I know, this is good fodder for larger carnivore e.g. leopard and tiger.

We notice some people inside the forest – local villagers? No, the forester notices that they are probably workers for Forest Development Corporation, who are removing some marked trees! Thinning of the tree crop, which is a management practice.

Soon the action is there in front of us. We come to a screeching halt. It is rather painful to see a full grown healthy Dhawda (Anogeissus latifolia) tree lying felled across the road – blocking the path. I do not see any reason for the tree to be felled. The forester too feels that this healthy tree located by the side of the road should not have been felled.

Oh! This is unbelievable – we see two female Nilgai (antelope). I have not expected anything at all. And a little later a full grown bull Nilgai. Lovely.

The ups and downs of undulating forest landscape ultimately lead us to a wonderful site – Boria Maal Forest Jal Camp. We are at the edge of reservoir. Huge panorama is spread across – Picturesque view of the irregularly shaped reservoir and forests around it. Its miles and miles of water sheet – sunlight flashing from the mild waves on the surface as if sun is falling on shaking thousands of mirrors. The cool looking water sheet is a mirage – it’s a deep water body and you never know of the turbulence brewing. At times, even a powerful motor boat cannot negotiate it from across, where a tourist resort, Hanumanthia, is located.  I am told, the Chief Minister of the State is keen to visit this Jal Camp but his two attempts by motor boat from Hanumanthia previously failed.

A small boat, parked at the edge below, adds to the scene – A picture perfect. A crude looking, poorly conceived eco-tourism site /camp has been developed here. There are two small portable plastic and aluminium cabin put here. One has been made into a double bed room, so tiny that the twin beds with a coffee table in between just fit edge to edge in the room. There is small bathroom attached. The other one has been converted into a dormitory to accommodate four persons. One tent serves as a kitchen.  The camp is an example of truly shabby, most awkward, really un-aesthetic and uncomfortable arrangement. Only good thing is solar power, though I am sure, it would not really work in government setup.  They must be using backup generator to do some business or keep the visitors in dark.

Soon, it was time to leave. We drive back. Again, unexpectedly we see a pair of Four-horned Antelope.  I am amazed that neither the nilgais we met while coming down nor this pair of antelope shy away as much as they should be in forest, which is not frequently visited by people. It seems these animals are used to seeing people and vehicles.

The weed packed open stretches of forest pain me. I imagine palatable grasses are growing here, and I am watching herds of spotted deer now and again.  The scene of weed removal in many hectare of grasslands in Gomarda Wildlife Sanctuary in Chhattisgarh and appearance of grasses again and consequent wildlife sighting there flashes back in my mind.

As we emerge from the forest on to the highway at Kaladev, I feel sad. With a sigh, I think, what a pity, this forest has not been notified a Protected Area for three decades in spite of indication at the time Narmada HEP project was cleared. Omkareshwar has national park staff and management in place and some infrastructural works have been done.  All this is ineffective unless the Park is actually notified legally, since at present, forests are under the physical control of territorial forest division.

Protection and conservation issues can be taken care once the National Park is notified – there would be no felling of trees, there would be no minor forest produce collection, there would be no hunting,  there would weed management, there would be relocation of herbivore and carnivore  to populate the area. This can become a real vibrant wilderness and tiger country.

 

Pushp Jain

 

Post Script

 

Omkareshwar National Park & other Protected Areas Waiting for Ages to be Notified

 

Date Activity Remark
07.10.1987 ‘Forest Clearance’ for Narmada Hydro Electric Projects for 411 sq km area, largely going into submergence. One of the Clearance conditions is that a committee would be constituted for suggesting a programme for protection and management of wildlife. The suggested scheme would be implemented with the support of Narmada Valley Development Authority (NVDA). The idea is to compensate the forest and biodiversity loss.
08.01.1988 State Government Constitutes Committee  
  NVDA engages Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun and Friends of Nature (FoN), Bhopal to 1. Study the flora and fauna impacted due to submergence and 2. To suggest declaration of protected areas ( PAs) outside the reservoir.  
1994

1996

WII of India Submits report

FoN submits report

These organisations suggestions creation of one national park and two wildlife sanctuaries of total 760 sq km area

Too long a time taken (6-8 yrs) in completing the study.
23.04.2004 After ten years, a committee visits site! NVDA again gives a consultancy to Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIFM), Bhopal to suggest constitution of PAs.

IIFM dilute the suggestion for PAs by WII and FoN – decrease the area and divides the areas in weaker PAs.  It suggests creation of one national park, two wildlife sanctuaries and two Conservation Reserves of total 646  sq km area.

In spite of receiving reports by 1996, no action for 8 years, only a site visit. Action initiated to dilute the reports.
30.07.2004 PCCF (WL) suggests creation of one national park, two wildlife sanctuaries and two Conservation Reserves of total 697 sq km area somewhat more than suggested by IIFM but still less than suggested for PAs by WII and FoN  
19.10.2004 State Wildlife Board recommends notification of  one national park, two wildlife sanctuaries and two Conservation Reserves  
2005-06 Developmental works from the perspective of wildlife management initiated. Wildlife management officials appointed and continue to be in place. The actual control of the area remains with the territorial divisions. Staff in place, while no forest in physical control
27.10.2010 Principle Secretary (Forests) organises a meeting for constitution of PAs. It was decided to prepare and present documents for notification of only two Conservation Reserves of total 153 sq km area. Notification documents can be prepared in days, while it is taking years.
18.01.2013

 

18.05.2013

Sept 2013

The main committee meets –  decides on preparation of management plans for the proposed PAs.

First draft of the management plan

Second draft of the management plan

 
Present Wildlife Manager and staff are in place. Some protection measures e.g. communication in the areas e.g. roads, bridges, culverts, forest guard camps have been developed.

Actual control of the area is with territorial forest divisions.

Wood and non-wood harvest are taking place, resulting in disturbance and habitat alterations, and regular fires affecting ground flora. It is suspected that poaching too is happening.

In spite of condition of forest clearance in 1987, now thirty years later, 2017, the PAs are yet to be notified.

 

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2 comments

  1. Pratap Singh · March 2

    Amazing! It is going to be another good PA in MP. Thanks.

    Like

  2. Amar Bisht · March 17

    It’s really fantastic.

    Like

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