Nagarkurnool: The sight of two calves suckling milk from a cow, as one of the calves had lost her mother to a leopard after its birth, is proof of the harmony that exists between all living beings in the Nallamala forests.
A kaleidoscope of lemon yellow and rich black, white and red butterflies, two Blue Jays (Palapittas) enjoying their time after a good rain and a pair of kittens looking in shock while clinging on to the stem of a plant, scared of getting down the tree as they watch two dogs fighting, complete the picture of the serene surroundings.
These sights inside the thick Nallamala forests, which are home to some of the most exotic animal and plant species in the world, may not remain the same if the Centre’s decision to go ahead with uranium exploration becomes a reality.
Chenchus most worried
‘Deva Chenchus,’ the most primitive of tribes who have been living here since time immemorial, are the ones most worried, fearing that the landscape of the ‘divine land’ which is known to be the abode of Lord Shiva, may never be the same again.
“They want to dig a borewell first and then drop a bomb the size of a matchstick inside the borewell. After blasting it, when the hole becomes big, a vehicle (explorer) would be able to go inside along with the people who would be operating them. These vehicles from France and Australia are being used for Uranium exploration. Octopus, the counter-terrorism unit, would oversee the exploration work,” Mallaiah (name changed), a source in the Forest Department told Telangana Today.
Thanks to social media, he has seen a demonstration of how the Centre wants to conduct uranium exploration in an area covering 83 sq km deep inside the dense forests of Amrabad Tiger Reserve, which was in fact declared a Chenchu Reserve in the 1940s, when the Nizam got a survey done of the region. However, due to Operation Polo, the Nizam’s directive wasn’t followed later.
The intended uranium exploration not only affects many Chenchu habitations inside the core area of the tiger reserve in Nagarkurnool district, but also affects parts of Nalgonda district (near Nagarjuna Sagar project), till where the Nallamala is spread.
Just 17 tigers left
There are currently only 17 tigers in the core forest area near Mannanuru and another four tigers in Maddimadugu area, as per the wildlife census conducted last year by the Forest Department. While the tigers have been safe inside the core forest, near Maddimadugu, tigers have allegedly been killed by locals for their skin, nails, teeth and head (for stuffing), due to which their population is lower in numbers there.
Nallamala forests are also home to some of the most exotic medicinal plants which hold the key to India’s ancient Ayurveda. For example, ‘Poodu Maddi,’ an ancient plant which grows where the Krishna flows, was used as gum to stick deep-cuts instantly and heal the injured. This plant has already gone extinct. While most of the timber-yielding trees like Jittegi, teak and Narayepa are dying a quick death due to deforestation like the one in the recent past near Vemulapaya on the banks of Krishna River, where thousands of trees were cut, there are many indigenous species which are still abundantly growing inside the forest.
As per Chenchu mythology, Lord Rama had performed penance near Saileshwaram after killing Ravana to be relieved from the sin of killing him (as Ravana was a devout worshipper of Shiva). Chenchus also believe that Arjuna was given the Pashupathastra weapon by Shiva in Nallamala, when Arjuna performed penance here in Mahabharata. It is also said that a Chenchu woman, Mallamma, had given Shivaji his famous sword, which is recorded by writers of the time that Bhavani Matha had given it to him. Shivaji had spent some time in the Nallamala forests when he was fighting the Mughals. Chenchus living here are still ardent followers of Chhattrapati Shivaji.
Temples under threat
Because of the devotion shown by the Chenchus living here towards their gods and nature, they have been revered as ‘Deva Chenchus,’ who have been serving the gods for thousands of years.
Ancient temples in Nallamala like Saileshwaram, Uma Maheshwaram, Bourapur temple, Loddi Malanna temple and many others come under the uranium exploration zone being planned.
Aerial surveys using helicopters were done for uranium exploration back in 2008, according to the Chenchus. Forest Department had also used its tiger-trackers (Chenchus) for the survey back then. Most recently, to facilitate eco-tourism, trees and paths were marked to lay roads deep inside the core forests. However, Chenchus feel that the roads would be used for sending vehicles for uranium exploration and that tourism was just an excuse.
Dams face danger
While uranium and other metals which may get deposited in the Krishna river due to exploration may affect the health and livelihoods of Chenchus and other people living in both AP and Telangana, irrigation experts believe that both Srisailam and Nagarjuna Sagar dams may be put in grave threat of being breached if the Centre decides to go ahead with the uranium exploration.
The Centre has already given its clearance on May 22, during a meeting with Forest Advisory Committee of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, stating that the proposal for uranium exploration was of critical importance from the national perspective. The Nuclear Power Division has also defended the proposal and has given the principle approval. The Atomic Minerals Directorate for Exploration and Research (AMD) and Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) have also submitted a proposal to carry out surveys in four blocks of forest area spread across the Amrabad Tiger Reserve in Nagarkurnool district and Rajiv Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary in Nalgonda district.