Party leaders' suggestions not difference of opinion: C'garh minister on elephant reserve row

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Raipur, Jul 8 (PTI) Amid a controversy over the area of the proposed elephant reserve in northern part of Chhattisgarh, state Agriculture Minister Ravindra Chaubey on Thursday said suggestions by ruling Congress leaders for the project should not be treated as difference of opinions.

The minister also said it was not possible to declare the entire state, which has been witnessing movement of jumbos in its several parts, as a protected area for the pachyderms.

In August 2019, the Congress government had decided to develop Lemru elephant reserve in northern Chhattisgarh in an area of 1,995.48 sq km and authorised the forest department for further action.

When asked about the reported disagreement within the government over the size of the reserve, Chaubey told reporters, 'Such a big project cannot be made with the opinion of any one person. Therefore, suggestions from all people are being invited. It should not be treated as a difference of opinions (over the project)'.

'All five divisions of the state are witnessing movement of elephants, so does it mean that the entire state should be declared as a sanctuary. Therefore, suggestions are being sought from everyone for the project,' he added.

The row erupted over the size of the reserve last week after a letter written by the forest department on June 26 came to light. The letter, written by the Under Secretary of the state's forest and climate change department, K P Rajput, to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) stated that seven Congress MLAs and Health Minister T S Singh Deo wanted the area of the Lemru elephant reserve to be restricted to 450 sq km.

The state government had issued a notification in 2011 to develop Surguja-Jashpur elephant reserve in an area of 1143.34 sq km (during the then BJP government), but no action was taken then, the letter said.

In August 2019, the state cabinet decided to develop the elephant reserve in an area of 1,995.48 sq km and later suggestions came in to further expand it to around 3,827.64 sq km area in a bid to protect the biodiversity in the catchment area of Hasdeo river, it said.

The letter further said that eight legislators, including minister Singh Deo, have urged the department not to extend the Lemru elephant reserve beyond 450 square km citing public sentiments. The officer urged that the matter should be kept before the cabinet for reconsideration of the reserve area.

Singh Deo on June 30 wrote a letter to Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel rejecting the forest department's claims and said he had never asked to reduce the area of the reserve to 450 sq km. However, another Congress MLA Vinay Jaiswal, whose name also featured in the forest department letter, told PTI that he had sought reduction in the elephant reserve area.

When contacted, State Forest and Climate Change Minister Mohammad Akbar said the cabinet will take the final decision on the size of the reserve.

'Earlier, a proposal to develop the reserve in an area of 1,995 sq km was presented in the cabinet (in 2019), but no notification in this regard was issued. Now, the decision to increase or reduce its size will be taken by the cabinet,' Akbar said. PTI TKP NP RSY RSY

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