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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Five underpasses to protect wildlife

Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN | May 23, 2012, 01.22AM IST NAGPUR: In a major victory for wildlife activists, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, has recommended five underpasses in four patches on Maharashtra side and two on the Chhattisgarh side as part of the mitigation plan on NH6, where four-laning is cutting through vital tiger populations of Central Indian landscape. The WII had been appointed to suggest mitigation measures by the National Tiger Conservation Authority ( NTCA). TOI was the first to report on the Forest Conservation Act (FCA) violations by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) on NH6 in January 2009. Since then permission has been held up for widening the highway from two-lane to four-lane. NGO Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) had moved the Supreme Court's centrally empowered committee (CEC) against the cutting of tiger corridors. On the directions of the CEC, NHAI prepared a mitigation plan but it was not acceptable to the WTI, which insisted on flyovers. Finally, the WII was asked to prepare a plan and accordingly a two-member team visited NH6 for eight days beginning January 27. The WII report asks NHAI to construct underpasses for animals stretching 1,000, 1,500 and 2,000 metre in length and 7 metre in height. The NHAI's revised mitigation plan submitted to the forest department had suggested underpasses in eight vulnerable patches, with dimensions of 10 feet height and 20 feet width. In addition, NHAI had suggested fencing of thick chain links, rescue gates and ramps. However, since this mitigation plan does not satisfy the needs of wild animals, WII has virtually rejected it. The NHAI plan was prepared by ex-chief wildlife warden RN Indurkar and retired ACF SS Deshpande. Most of the road from Bhandara to Chhattisgarh border has been upgraded from two-lane to four-lane, except in the three stretches passing through forest area. The incomplete stretches are from Maramjob to Bahmni (4.15km), Bahmni to Duggipar (3.05km), and Sakoli to Mundipar (3.2km). Apart from these, WII has also proposed two additional structures in the completed four-lane road between Sirpur-Navatola (6.3km). "This stretch led to bifurcation of 70% of the corridor between Kanha-Pench and Navegaon, Nagzira and Tadoba reserves," WII sources said. In the three as yet uncompleted stretches, the WII says that box culverts of 3.05 height and 6.10 width proposed by the NHAI are unsuitable for wildlife. These box culverts have been largely conceived as drainage structures. The WII has proposed underpasses of 2,000 metre width and 7 metre height. Regarding the 3.05km patch between Bahmni and Duggipar, the WII says it is a vital connectivity between Navegaon and Nagzira. The NH6 is 1km from the boundary of the park. However, Prafulla Bhamburkar of WTI says that after the notification of Navegaon Sanctuary, the four-lane road is now virtually touching the sanctuary boundary. The WII has also disapproved NHAI's plan to change total width of forest used for the road from 60 metre to 45 metre. WII sources said, "The reduced width will not have any influence on volume of traffic, but actually give less time to animals to decide whether to cross the road or not. Reduced width will increase probability of animal fatalities." On an average, 6,000 vehicles use NH6 in every 24 hours. The WII has said NHAI should be asked to implement the mitigation measures as soon as possible. Delay in implementing the measures will affect the long-term functionality of the crucial corridor connecting 10 protected areas (PAs).

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