National Board of Wildlife accepts recommendations of panel on guidelines for roads in protected areas
An expert committee of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has recommended a ban on expansion or construction of roads in the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
The recommendations were outlined by a sub-committee chaired by M K Ranjitsinh, member of National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), which wants guidelines for roads in protected areas to be comprehensive. The standing committee of NBWL decided to form a separate sub-committee to deliberate on the guidelines on roads in protected areas (PAs) after its 28th meeting following concern over the many proposals it received for the expansion and construction of roads in these areas.
The National Action Wildlife Plan 2002-16 also emphasises on the need to plan roads in such a manner that all national parks and sanctuaries are bypassed and integrity of protected areas are maintained. Protected areas, which include national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, conservation areas and core, critical tiger habitats, are designated so in order to preserve their biodiversity and ecology.
Agents of doom
The committee’s report suggests that although roads are a key to development of the nation, their presence in ecologically sensitive areas not only is an invasion into the natural life of various life-forms but also causes destruction of flora. Environmentalists believe that the only fallout of such roads that has been highlighted is the death of animals from road accidents. The consequence of letting roads pass through protected areas is much larger, says Prerna Singh Bindra, conservationist and former member of NBWL. "Besides fatal accidents that kill rare wild creatures, roads in protected areas fragment wildlife habitats, break contiguity, tree cover and canopy, slice vegetation and impinge on forests and well-worn migratory paths of animals. Roads also serve as conduits to soil erosion, landslides. Roads provide access, and are the first step to ancillary development and an increasing human footprint. Simply put, roads spell the end of wilderness,” said Bindra.
The road passing through Kaziranga National Park, for instance, is the reason for deaths of many animals, including rhinos, from road accidents. A similar problem was being faced in Mudumalai, Bandipur and Nagarhole sanctuaries where night traffic has been prohibited to allow clear passage to animals and avoid accidents. “Less than five per cent of India comes under the PA network, and these are already fragmented by roads, canals, railways lines and reservoirs. Effective protection cover would barely be two per cent. National parks and sanctuaries are the last refuge of endangered and, in some cases, endemic species. We have to take a call: and I believe that at least in PAs, wildlife must get priority,” added Bindra.
How to manage existing roads
While the expert panel said that the status quo of roads be maintained, it allowed repair works “in the best manner in its current form”. It also allowed repairing and betterment of roads that are not usable throughout the year in sanctuaries or conservation reserves to ensure connectivity to villages and not cause a problem to the resident community within these areas after approval by the standing committee of NBWL.
Limitation on the transfer of ownership of these roads was also recommended, unless it is required for the better management which will cause minimal impact on wildlife. For instance, the transfer of a road in a PA back to the forest department for better maintenance could be considered, the panel said.
The sub-committee also showed concern over construction and usage of roads within a PA by the forest department for patrolling or tourism purposes. It has recommended that no new roads be constructed by the department unless approved by the authorities concerned and boards.
The committee has also deliberated on the management of the existing roads in PAs to minimise their detrimental effect on the surrounding ecology. Recommendations have been made to ban night traffic (from dusk to dawn) while allowing passes for communities living within a PA and also regulate traffic volumes in day time, applying speed limits and constructing speed-breakers to reduce animal mortality, ban vehicles from stopping or littering in PAs. Other suggestions like having check posts, building underpasses for animals so that their natural paths are not interfered with, have been mooted to safeguard protected areas.
These recommendations were accepted by the standing committee of the NBWL at a meeting held on September 4; state boards have been asked to send their comments and suggestions, if any. The sommittee also stated that the guidelines can be amended later, if necessary.
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