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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.

National Tiger Conservation Authority seeks report on irrigation projects near Melghat

Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN | Apr 24, 2012, 02.29AM IST NAGPUR: Even though wildlife and territorial wings of forest department have turned mute spectators to construction of two minor irrigation projects Arkacheri in Sonala and Alewadi in Buldhana, both falling within the 10 km of Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR), the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has sought a detailed report on them. TOI had reported on April 9 that Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation (VIDC) was implementing both the projects without seeking permission from National Board for Wildlife (NBWL). As the projects fall within 10 km radius of Ambabarwa wildlife sanctuary (part of MTR) and are also in the notified buffer zone of the reserve, NBWL nod is a must. Aggrieved farmers from Sonala have already moved the high court here against VIDC for forcing Arkacheri on them. They claim the project would help land that is already under irrigation. "We are not against the project as such, but want it shifted to more suitable site. When there is no demand from the people for a dam, why is the project being forced upon them? There is presence of wildlife in and around Sonala and the project may cause man-animal conflict," said petitioner Ramdas Kothe from Sonala. Taking serious note of TOI report, NTCA at Delhi has sought details. "I've been asked to report the developments in Alewadi and Sonala. The matter is in high court. We will reply once the notices are received," said Ravikiran Govekar, assistant inspector general (AIG), NTCA, Nagpur. Govekar will visit both the sites soon. The MTR officials are not concerned as control of buffer lies with territorial wing. Mohan Jha, chief conservator of forests (CCF), Amravati Circle, says, "As the work is being done on non-forest land, we technically have no role to play. But as both the projects fall within 10 km of a sanctuary, VIDC should have taken a NOC from wildlife wing. I'm conveying the same to MTR field director." Executive engineer for minor irrigation department U M Padmane had earlier said that wildlife permissions would be obtained when need was felt. He did not specify who would feel this need. NBWL member Kishor Rithe said state chief wildlife warden should act immediately. "As decided in last NBWL meeting, wardens are our eyes and ears in the states. They should be the first to take note of such violations," Rithe said. "I will visit the site in May first week and if violations are found, will report them to the union environment ministry (MoEF) as a NBWL member," he stressed. Conservationist Prafulla Bhamburkar said VIDC planned to divert Ar river into Kacheri nala but Ar comes from Wan sanctuary. As per Wildlife Protection Act 1972, diversion of river water coming from a protected area was prohibited without nod from chief wildlife warden, he said. Bhamburkar said irrigation department contention that buffer was notified after the projects were sanctioned was not right. "Though the projects were sanctioned earlier, work started after buffer was notified. Hence state wildlife board's and NBWL's permission should have been taken," he said.