SIMILIPAL is known worldwide for its tigers, orchids and dense sal forest with streams and other scenic spots. Even the recent controversy relating to the number of tigers was in focus for several days. Similipal has a wildlife sanctuary that covers an area of 2200sqkm and was notified on 03/12/1979. Also it was declared as a National Park in two phases - the first phase in 1980 and the second phase in 1986, covering an area of 845.70sqkm. The Similipal Biosphere Reserve came into existence during 1994 as per the Man And Biosphere (MAB) programme of UNESCO and the total area under the Biosphere Reserve is 5569sqkm with Similipal Sanctuary at the centre. The other distinction is that the Similipal Reserve Forest is the biggest reserve forest block in India with an area of 2271.78sqkm.
The forest is a potential habitat both for wild animals and plants; it has a good population of tigers, leopards, elephants, chital, sambar and 304 species of birds. Similipal Reserve Forest is spread over an area of 2750sqkm and was declared a Tiger Reserve with effect from 04/12/1973 under the Project Tiger Scheme of the Government of India. It has been conferred with legal status as per Section 38 V of the Wildlife (Conservation) Act, 1972 vide notification no. 8F(T)-9/2007/20801/? F&E dated, 31/12/2007 of the government of Orissa in the forest and environment department. The notification has been clearly indicated with boundary description of Critical Tiger Habitat (core) extending over 1194.75sqkm and a buffer area of 1555.25sqkm.
There are four villages situated within the Critical Tiger Habitat and 65 villages in the buffer area. The Similipal-Kuldiha-Hadgarh Elephant Reserve commonly known as the Mayurbhanj Elephant Reserve in the state of Orissa was notified vide notification No.15806 dated 29/09/2001 and revised vide No.18639 dated 28/11/2001 of the forest and environment department, government of Orissa comprising an area of 7043.04sqkm.
Despite all the above legal recognition, Similipal now faces an ecological threat from mining. However the field director of the Similipal tiger reserve in his response to an RTI application, had written that there were no legal or illegal mines operating in the Similipal Biosphere Reserve. In reality, a quartz mine has been operating in an area of 40 hectares in the Khasadiha and Balidiha area for the last eight years. In this connection, the divisional forest officer, Baripada, in his letter to the district collector dated 10/03/04, stated that the mining area comes under the purview of the Forest Conservation Act 1980 as per the order dated 12/12/1996 of the Honorable Supreme Court in writ petition (c) No 202/95.
Therefore, mining cannot be allowed in such a patch with good forest growth, irrespective of its ownership and classification.
Protesting the mining operation that required the felling of trees, the Mayurbhanja Jungle Surakshya Mahasanhga represented by the Bibekananda Pattanaik, has filed a petition with the Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court in July 2008. The committee had directed the ministry of environment and forest to depute an officer to investigate the matter and submit a report. Also it is alleged by the applicant that the mining work has been carried out without any environmental clearance from the ministry of environment and forest and the Orissa State Pollution Control Board has also issued a show cause notice for operating the mine without a valid consent.
The present blasting activity in the mining site also threatens the Balidiha Irrigation Project, situated just half a kilometer from the mining site and which is a historic construction dating back to 1912AD, made during the reign of the Maharaja of Majyurbhanj, Sri Ram Chandra Bhanja Deo, in the river Palapala. Because of the blasting activities carried out in mines, it is obvious that mining activity is detrimental to the movement of wildlife and this has been already noticed particularly among the elephants in the area. In the greater interest of forest and wildlife, local people and conservation groups are demanding closure of the mine.