The National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) is initiating measures to ensure that the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) complies with forest norms while upgrading the NH 54E that cuts through the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong elephant corridor.
NBWL chairperson Jayanthi Natarajan gave this assurance last month at a meeting of the standing committee, the minutes of which were made public yesterday.
The NHAI is constructing a four-lane expressway through Lumding reserve forest that will cut through a crucial migratory corridor for elephants, gibbons and gaur and also a critical tiger landscape.
Natarajan had suggested that the secretary, ministry of environment and forests, write to Assam chief secretary on this issue and request the state government to check whether the stipulations of forest clearance with respect to NH 54E were being complied with in letter and spirit. In case of non-compliance, she asked him to initiate action against the NHAI.
Natarajan also suggested initiation of a dialogue with the highway authority and also volunteered to write to the Union road, transport and highways minister, highlighting the issues raised by the members and asking the minister to ensure NHAI’s compliance with the forest clearance stipulations.
The NHAI was permitted to cut down over 100 hectares of forest for expanding NH 54E within the ambit of the preconditions laid down by the forest advisory committee.
The issue was raised by a member of the wildlife board, Prerna Bindra, who said according to the preconditions, labour camps and high-powered lights were barred in the forest and a special underpass was to be built to allow elephants to cross the highway with minimal disturbance.
She said one could understand the need for building and expanding roads and highways network, but NHAI had very low credibility because of repeated violations.
“It would serve both conservation and development imperatives if the NHAI executed its projects with due diligence by following all stipulated conditions in a bid to restore faith in its credibility, within the NBWL and the conservation community in general, and presented itself as a model that had regard for critical ecological concerns,” she said.
WWF India had suggested a series of measures to the NHAI to ensure that wildlife in the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong landscape, which bisects Lumding reserve forest, is not drastically affected by the development of NH 54E, which is being upgraded to a four-lane highway.
Some of the measures are provision for more elephant passages at suitable locations and landscaping of the area to ensure that there is no negative impact on the wildlife.
It also pointed out that construction period of the passage in the area should be so selected that the elephants are away on seasonal migration. This will reduce any disturbance to the elephants because of construction activities and thus reduce chances of conflict.
Dr Shankar Raman, another board member, said in specific cases like NH 54E, experienced wildlife scientists working in Assam could be requested to explain, advise and work with the NHAI and others involved in road construction work about the specific mitigation measures required for wildlife and also help monitor the progress and process of implementation thereof.