Mumbai: Environmentalists are concerned that the strong mining lobby in collusion with forest officials is trying to ensure that the buffer zone around Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) in the Chandrapur district of Maharashtra is not notified.

The core area of TATR has already been notified as a critical tiger habitat, but the buffer zone of over 1,150 square kilometres with 79 villages has yet to be notified, after which no mining or any other activity would be permitted.

Despite the centre recently rejecting the application made by Adani Group, which wants to mine coal near the reserve area for its power plant in neighbouring Gondia district, there are several other major and minor mining proposals from various companies before the government trying their luck at the last minute.

State Forest Minister Patangrao Kadam plans to hold a meeting on February 25 to hear the views of the people's representatives. "But a meeting, like a public hearing which is conducted under the Environment Protection Act, cannot be held since the TATR buffer has to be notified under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972," says Kishor Rithe, president of Satpuda Foundation, a non-governmental organisation fighting to protect wildlife in the forests of central India.

Moreover, a state government appointed consultative committee, of which Rithe was a member, has already submitted the documentation regarding the opinion of the people in the 79 villages.

"The villagers had no problem with the notification provided they were given fuel, water and fodder for their cattle to deter them from straying into the forest area," he says.