Following a sustained campaign by villagers and support from Tourism Minister Aditya Thackeray, the Centre has bowed down to save a 4-centuries old banyan tree and a crucial tiger corridor in Maharashtra from various developmental projects, officials said here on Saturday.
Aditya Thackeray had written to Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar and the Union Coal Ministry for the twin objectives of saving the old tree from a highway project in Western Maharashtra and a commercial mining project that would hit a tiger corridor in Vidarbha region.
The Union Coal Ministry was planning to auction the Bander coal mine in Tadoba Tiger Sanctuary, Chandrapur district, which would have destroyed more than 1,200 hectares of prime forest land, plus the tiger corridor linking the reserve with sanctuaires in Wardha and Amravati districts.
Bowing to a plea by Aditya Thackeray, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, Forest Minister Sanjay Rathod, former union minister Jairam Ramesh and others, on July 21, the Centre said the Bander Coal Mine auction was withdrawn since the region (Bander) falls in an eco-sensitive zone declared by the Union Ministry of Environment.
In another victory, a massive banyan tree with a shady spread of over 400 sq. metres, standing beside the famed Yellamma Temple in Bhose village, Sangli district was threatened by the expansion of the Solapur-Sangli-Kolhapur-Ratnagiri Expressway.
The Yellamma Temple Trust, Bhose villagers and environmentalists led by Bandu Dhotre recently organized a protest by hugging the banyan tree and sought intervention of Aditya Thackeray in their mission.
Aditya Thackeray wrote a letter to Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari on July 16, urging that the highway could be realigned to save the tree which is not only historical but also a natural home for many rare birds, mammals, monkeys and insects.
Last Wednesday, a team from National Highways Authority of India visited the spot for a survey and to discuss the issue in detail with Bhose villagers, the temple trustees and environmentalists.
NHAI officials concluded that it would not be necessary to cut off the banyan tree but trim its branches a bit for the highway to run beside without causing any obstructions to the traffic and realign the service road to save the tree.
In tweets on the two issues, Aditya Thackeray expressed gratitude to the central ministers and the CM and others for their gesture which had helped save the tiger corridor and the banyan tree in the state.
Last week, CM Uddhav Thackeray wrote to the Centre on the gauge conversion of the 176-km long Akola-Khandwa line passing through India's oldest Melghat Tiger Reserve, and sought a realignment of the project.
In late June, the state government issued a notification declaring 29.53 sq.km in Dodamarg sub-district of Sindhudurg as the Tillari Conservation Reserve which houses many wild animals and also is a tiger corridor for reserved in Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka.