Saranda sal forests- once an impenetrable domain for sunlight itself- has now stands deserted and ravaged with its fallen trees.
With an area of 82000 hectares (ha), the Saranda forest was once a natural habitat to various tribes and several wild species of plants and animals and famed for its abundant green cover. It stands atop one of the world’s largest single deposits of iron ore – over 2,000 million tonnes. The region was also an important elephant corridor till the early 1990s.
But today the picture stands completely changed. The mass felling of trees has turned Saranda into an industrial zone where nature is being brutalised and mutilated every day for its rich minerals.
According to the Indian Bureau of Mines’ 2010 report, West Singhbhum is the most mined district in Jharkhand, and accounts for almost the entire share of iron ore mined in the state.
Several mining companies such as Usha Martin, Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL), and Rungta Mines, among others are involved in the extraction of minerals finishing its biodiversity with each passing day.
To understand the impact of mining on the biodiversity of Saranda, the Union government appointed a commission of inquiry headed by Justice M.B. Shah on November 22, 2010.
The Shah Commission reported illegal mining worth over Rs 22,000 crore (Rs 220 billion) in Jharkhand and suggested cancellation of leases, recovery of lost revenue and punishing errant officials who colluded with the miners.
The Commission found big corporates like Tata Steel, SAIL and Essel Mining as well as medium and small firms Usha Martin and Rungta Mines guilty of wrongdoings and violation of rules. It also stated that the companies were mining in as many as 40 leases in West Singhbhum, including dense Saranda forests, in violation of rules and regulations between 1994 and 2006.
In 2015-2016, a study done by Wildlife Institute of India (WII) had found that the plant species in Saranda has reduced to 87 against 300 it once possessed.
The research team led by Dipak Anand and Syed Ainul Hussain had also found that only 19 species of mammals belonging to 14 families while earlier research teams had documented over 30 species. The team also found just 116 species of birds, as compared to the 148 species found earlier.
Significantly, the research team could not document a single sighting of an elephant. The 2010 elephant census had sighted 253 elephants, “The elephants have abandoned the traditional route due to excessive human settlements and mining. There has been no movement of elephants towards Ghatkuri area in Saranda since 2004-05 and other areas known for frequent movement of jumbos,” said Dipak Anand, project biologist at WII.