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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

National highways may endanger lives of big cats

Sudipta Sengupta, TNN | Apr 24, 2012, 02.39AM IST HYDERABAD: The talk of upgrading some of Andhra Pradesh's state highways to national highways, which seems to be fast gaining momentum now, has left local environmentalists worried. Two state highways -- the Hyderabad-Srisailam-Dornala-Atmakur-Nandyal stretch (354km) and the Nirmal-Khanapur-Luxeettipet (108km) -- pass through AP's most prominent tiger reserves, the Nagarjunasagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve (NSTR) and the recently declared Kawal Tiger Reserve, respectively. Quoting instances from other states, experts say that the move to elevate them as national highways would increase the vehicular traffic on these roads and endanger the lives of the 'big cats' living in these forest belts. Currently, NSTR has close to 60 tigers while Kawal boasts of a population of about seven. The proposed upgradation is feared to not just increase traffic movement manifold (from two-lane roads they will become four or even six-lane roads), but even lead to relaxation of time restrictions imposed in these belts at present. This, experts fear would in turn push the tiger casualty figures upward. In the NSTR for instance, vehicular movement is now banned between 9pm and 6am. "But this could be done away with once it becomes a national highway," said Imran Siddiqui a wildlife expert from the AP, adding, "We are, therefore, planning to take up the matter with the state authorities. We hope to convince the government to either shelve the proposal or realign the routes." Quoting from a recent study conducted by the Current Science Association along with the Indian Academy of Sciences in the Nagarhole Tiger Reserve area (Karnataka), Siddiqui noted how the death of large mammals in the belt had shot phenomenally owing to a rise in vehicular traffic. Even in belts such as the Bandipur Tiger Reserve (Karnataka), Dudhwa Tiger Reserve (Uttar Pradesh) and Nagriza Wildlife Sanctuary & Tiger Reserve (Maharashtra), all of which are located close to national highways, cases of tiger deaths have been reported consistently. Experts attribute these casualties to the speeding traffic on these highways that is most often not monitored by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI). "As a result drivers touch speeds up to 120kmph (they should restrict it to 70-80kmph) on these national highways. Animals, especially in the night, misjudge the speed and fall prey to accidents," said wildlife biologist Milind Pariwakam who has been, for long, battling for the realignment of NH-7 that runs through Pench National Park in Madhya Pradesh. Intriguingly, NHAI authorities, by their own admission, seem to have paid little attention to this issue prior to tabling the proposal before the central government. When contacted, Siva Reddy, engineer-in-chief, NHAI said, "Such concerns will be addressed once the Centre gives its nod to upgrade these state highways." He hastily added that a few speed-breakers would be laid on the roads to control vehicular movement. State forest department officials too seemed remotely cautioned. In fact, the principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife), S V Kumar, feigned complete ignorance on the subject. This, when the rulebook clearly notes that such proposals should be passed by local forest authorities before being sent to the Centre.

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