NHAI’s six-lane highway to cut through elephant corridor, could increase human-wildlife conflict
A proposal for the construction of a six-lane elevated highway in Bengaluru’s Bannerghatta National Park (BNP) has evoked protests by environmental activists over its potential adverse impacts on the ecologically sensitive park. The environmentalists are rallying behind ‘Save Bannerghatta’ campaign to protect the national park in Karnataka.
The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has proposed the ambitious flyover project, set to bridge Bannerghatta and Jigani Road. The project, which is a part of the satellite township ring road (STRR), will be built on the 3.85 kilometre stretch of the existing road connecting Bannerghatta and Jigani Road and has already received approval from the National Board of Wildlife.
STRR will connect seven towns around Bengaluru, besides decongesting the city roads. The project encompasses 27.45 acres of the core area of the national park and 14 acres in the buffer zone. The elevated stretch is part of the 280-km-long STRR and the work is expected to be completed by December 2025.
While the intended purpose of the flyover is to alleviate traffic congestion, concerns loom large over its potential repercussions on the fragile ecosystem and the natural habitat of the park’s wildlife. Bannerghatta National Park serves as a vital biodiversity hotspot, housing endangered species like Asian elephants, Indian gaurs and sambar deer.
The national park is a very linear protected area with forest areas as narrow as 300 metres in some parts, pointed out conservation biologist Sanjay Gubbi. “Mitigation measures must be planned and designed in accordance with scientific studies, rather than on an ad hoc basis. It should also involve a good understanding of wildlife movement patterns, especially those of elephants,” he said.
The project will reduce the habitat available for elephants and increase human-wildlife conflict in the long run, as there are nearly 100 elephants that use the landscape, he added. Bannerghatta also has two tigers, making Bengaluru the only city in the country with tigers, a substantial population of elephants, leopards, dholes and gaur all right at its edge, said Gubbi.
The plan was under the consideration of the state government and explanations from the department, NHAI and the BNP authorities have been sought for more clarity on the issue, said Karnataka Forest Minister Eshwar Khandre.
“We have to find a way to protect the natural surroundings of the BNP while still trying to find a viable way to cope up with the traffic snarls between Bannerghatta and Jigani. My ministry has put the best minds on work on finding solutions to the problems,” Khandre said.
The project also includes plans to fell 1,288 trees within BNP, with the corridor cutting through the elephant habitat, claimed activists.
A robust social media campaign has been initiated, urging the urgent withdrawal of permission for NHAI’s project in BNP. Green activists have several demands to protect BNP’s fragile ecosystem, including urgently withholding clearance for NHAI’s project within the national park, exploring alternative routes or solutions that avoid construction within the park’s core area and reconsidering the plan to cut almost 1,300 trees.
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According to the activists, the NHAI has agreed to the installation of effective noise barriers and the adherence to restricted construction hours. The decision maker for the plan, Forest Advisory Committee, has also proposed to study the impacts of the project on the ecosystem, they said.
Conservationists, on the other hand, argue that it may be more logical to consider alternative routes or solutions that avoid construction within the park’s core area and strike a balance between infrastructure development and environmental conservation.
BNP is home to a variety of animal species, including endangered Asian elephants, Indian gaurs, sambar deer, spotted deer, wild pig, sloth bear, pangolin and black-naped hare. The forest now supports only a few species of reptiles, mammals, amphibians, and birds.
The national park is also an important location on the northern edge of the Mysore Elephant Reserve. It facilitates the migration of Asian elephants from the nearby Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary in Krishnagiri and the Hosur Forest Division in Tamil Nadu. It is also an important watershed for streams like Antaragange Hole, Rayathmala Hole, Hebbalahalla, and Suvarnamukhi.
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