Turning into ‘wildlife hub’: Tiger sighted in Nagpur’s MIHAN area

Vivek Deshpande
Two officials point to the tiger’s tracks at MIHAN’s IT sector. (Express Photo by Deepak Daware)

EVEN as the ambitious Multi-modal International Hub Airport at Nagpur (MIHAN) project goes through a seemingly endless wait to become an air cargo and passenger hub as originally conceived, sighting of a tiger on two consecutive days in the project’s IT area has raised questions if it has become a wildlife hub.

The tiger was seen by a few labourers and security personnel in a shrubby area near Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) and Infosys campuses, on November 16 and 17. Deputy Conservator of Forest Prabhunath Shukla confirmed it was a tiger. “We have got him in camera trap picture that was clicked around 10 pm on November 18. It seems to be a grown-up big cat.”

Shukla added, “We will soon decide what to do. We hope it might go off on his own or we may have to drive him out or, as a last resort, capture it.”

The tiger’s pug mark. (Express Photo by Deepak Daware)

This is the closest a tiger has come to Nagpur, known to be India’s gateway to tiger country with many tiger reserves within 200 km of the city. Earlier, in September, a tiger was seen near Phetri village, adopted by former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, along Katol road. It later moved away.

Security staffers claim they often see blue bulls and wild pigs in the area. Baba Dawre, a political activist who has fought for the rights of MIHAN oustees, said, “I myself saw a tiger in MIHAN area last year. There already are leopards around.”

“This area is contiguous with the Hingna forest, which, in turn, is connected to Bor Tiger Reserve in Wardha district. So, there could be movement of animals from there to this place,” said Shukla. “There are two lakes and shrubby vegetation that offer good hiding place,” he added.

People working in the various units as well as those in the adjoining four villages have been put on alert and Special Tiger Protection Force as well as regular forest guards have been deployed.

MIHAN, conceived over two decades ago, is still far from being an air cargo and passenger hub and over 60 per cent of the land under the project lies barren, providing wildlife ample area to move around.

According to MIHAN Chief Engineer Subhash Chahande, “MIHAN stands on 5,557 acres. The SEZ part is on 3,054 acres while non-SEZ is on 2,503 acres. SEZ’s 1,433 acres and non-SEZ’s 973 acres have been allotted so far to various companies. The rest is still open.”

“We have sought help from the forest department. We have also ordered clearing of bushes and vegetation,” he added.

Chahande puts the number of people directly employed in the various units in MIHAN at 16,000 and at least three times more as indirectly employed.

MIHAN was kick-started in 2005, when aviation giant Boeing announced its Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) unit in the area. The project took about a decade thereafter to start actual operations. Since then many big companies, mainly from IT sector, acquired land here but they, too, took longer to start operations. The major companies to start operations are TCS, Tech Mahindra and HCL while Infosys has started on a very low scale.

TAL Manufacturing Solutions Limited, manufacturing floor bins for aircraft, and Dassault Reliance Aerospace Limited, manufacturing aviation spare parts and designed to later manufacture aircraft, are the two major units that have since come up.

The location where the big cat was spotted by labourers and security personnel (Express Photo by Deepak Daware)

Yoga guru Ramdev’s Patanjali Ayurved is setting up a food processing park after a controversial land allotment about three years ago but the unit is yet to start operations due to financial issues as earlier reported by The Indian Express.

Also, construction of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and Indian Institute of Management (IIM) campuses is underway.

But the main part of the project, air passenger and cargo hub, appears a long way away. After the bidding process earlier this year for a new international airport conceived to serve as a hub terminal, GMR was the lowest bidder. The work order, however, has been hanging fire since the past over four months. It will now have to be done by the new state government. “The new airport should take at least two years to come up once the work starts,” said Chahande.

Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) Nitin Kakodkar said, “We definitely have a serious problem on hand. Tigers seem to be breeding well but are probably facing paucity of proper habitat. So, some of them could be ending up in unlikely places like MIHAN. We will have to evolve a policy to deal with the situation sooner than later.”