Wildlife takes precedence over roads in protected areas of India

Curbs on roads in protected areas

Guwahati, Nov. 13: Road developers will now have to think twice before constructing or upgrading roads passing through protected areas in the country.
A sub-committee — constituted by the ministry of environment and forests to draft guidelines for roads in protected areas — has recommended that the foremost option would be to altogether avoid areas that are within or near any protected area and to find alternatives that are socially and ecologically more appropriate.
The committee has said that existing roads can be maintained and repaired in their current form and width but no widening or upgrading will be allowed.
On roads being managed by the forest department for the purpose of patrolling and tourism, it said no new roads should be constructed. If new roads must be built, then prior approval of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (in case of tiger reserves) must be obtained.
Thanks to sub-committee’s recommendations, conversion of the two-lane Harangajao-Udarband-Silchar section of NH-54 — that falls under the East-West Corridor project — into a four-lane road is likely to be hit. The proposal involves diversion of 24.1268 hectares of forest land from Borail wildlife sanctuary for upgrading the road section.
“If this happens, it will be a big national loss,” a NHAI official looking after the Silchar road section told The Telegraph. The East-West Corridor project is already getting delayed.
The sub-committee had met a number of times and submitted their report to the wildlife board that has now made its decision public (see chart).
The sub-committee has decided to adopt the guidelines in its present form and requested the chief wildlife wardens of different states to submit their comments, if any, on the guidelines to the ministry within a month so that necessary amendments can be made.
“Roads fragment an already highly fragmented habitat. Protected areas cover barely five per cent of India, and are already heavily fragmented by roads, canals and railway lines. Effective protection would barely cover two per cent of land in India. These are the last refuges of endangered and, in some cases, endemic species. We have to take a call: and I believe that at least in protected areas wildlife must get priority,” Prerna Bindra, member of the National Board for Wildlife, told The Telegraph. Former chief wildlife warden of Assam, Suresh Chand, who was present in the meeting, said a view needs to be taken in case of roads which were existent even before the sanctuary was notified and suggested that the guidelines should take this into consideration.
M.K. Ranjitsinh from the National Board for Wildlife was also present at the meeting where he quoted the example of the road that passes through Kaziranga National Park today. He said many animals, including rhinos, are killed on that road each year.


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