In the name of rationalisation

the Himachal Pradesh forest department plans to denotify four sanctuaries in the state and redraw the boundaries of 15 others. Authorities say the move will rationalise protected areas in Himachal Pradesh. The sanctuaries to be denotified are Norgu in Chuhar valley, Darlaghat and Sili in Solan district, and Naina Devi in Bilaspur district.

Authorities say increased human interference in such small habitats isn't conducive to wildlife protection. It is true that human interference is on rise: the people ousted by Bhakra dam have been rehabilitated to the Naina Devi sanctuary.

But, only two of these protected areas can actually be described as small: Darlaghat, which is 6.5 sq km and Sili, which is 2 sq km. Naina Devi and Norgu sanctuaries are spread over 123 sq km and 278 sq km, respectively.

Local residents are happy with the forest department's plan. They say protected areas impede development. Communities living inside the sanctuaries had been pressuring the government to exclude their settlements from forestland classification. But environmentalists criticised the proposal.

However, the state forest department doesn't have power to denotify sanctuaries. It has to seek permission from the Supreme Court before taking any step. The proposal will soon be presented to the state wildlife board and then to the Centre. Meanwhile, the department plans to add another 850 sq km to Kibber Sanctuary in Spiti, home to the snow leopard and marmot.