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Uranium plant poses threat to tiger sanctuary in Nalgonda

Uranium mining in the Nalgonda district of Andhra Pradesh will seriously impact the flora and fauna of the region

The Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) has been granted a lease to take up uranium mining in the Nalgonda district of Andhra Pradesh, close to the Rajiv Gandhi Tiger Sanctuary. A public notification for both the ore-extraction site and the plant has been issued.

The mine unit, with an extraction capacity of 1,250 tonnes a day, will be located three kilometres from the Nagarjunasagar and Akkampally projects, which supply drinking water to Hyderabad. Of the 526.65 hectares sought under the mining lease, at least 80% is forestland.

The upcoming uranium unit is expected to have a serious impact on the flora and fauna of the sanctuary. The area is home to several endangered species listed in Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, such as panthers, sloth bear, chinkara, blackbuck, etc. "It is not just the tigers, but the entire flora and fauna, including over 250 bird species, that is going to be affected," says Asheesh Pittie of the Birdwatchers' Society of Andhra Pradesh.

The Andhra Pradesh government seems to have no problems with the mining unit being set up in the area. "We are supporting the project subject to the company taking adequate safeguards against the contamination of Krishna waters with radioactive material," said a senior government official. Admitting that it was a highly hazardous `red category' industry, environment principal secretary T Chatterjee said the Pollution Control Board (PCB) would be holding a public hearing which would be followed by the setting up of a seven-member expert committee to evaluate the project.

Chatterjee added: "The committee may reject the project or suggest more safeguards. If the committee is satisfied with the environment impact assessment report of UCIL, it might clear it and send it to the Union government for final clearance."

UCIL has promised to "take steps to minimise the effects of mining in the buffer zone on the fauna of the sanctuary," and carry out "compensatory afforestation" to make up for 423.27 hectares of forest in the Yellapur reserve in the Nagarjunasagar range, which it described as "fallow" with "low soil fertility" and "stony waste". The company plans to carry out mining in 526.65 hectares (Peddagattu and Yellapur villages) and set up a processing plant over 318.25 hectares (Dugyal and Mallapuram villages).

Wildlife enthusiasts and environmental activists have expressed strong reservations about the upcoming unit. According to a consortium of non-governmental organisations, Movement Against Uranium Project (MAUP), the environmental impact assessment (EIA) prepared by UCIL's consultant, MEACON, another public sector unit, was "full of half-truths and distortion of facts".

Activists fear the unit will pose a threat to the waters of the Nagarjunasagar, just a few kilometres from the mining project site. Wildlife enthusiasts cite the disappearance of the lippi and other local birds in Jadugoda in Jharkhand, where India's largest uranium mine and processing plant is situated.

The National Board for Wildlife, of the ministry of environment and forests, has consistently rejected UCIL's proposals concerning prospecting and mining in the sanctuary. After its proposal was rejected in 1998, UCIL shifted the project to the sanctuary's buffer zone. This has now reportedly been accepted by a high-level committee.

Source: Sanctuary Asia, August 2, 2003, August 14, 2003