Flyovers for Kaziranga rhinos

Assam proposes elevated roads to reduce accidents of animals on National Highway 37

By Arnab Pratim Dutta
Published: Saturday 15 March 2014

imageTHE government of Assam recently proposed building elevated roads with viaducts and flyovers on stretches of National Highway 37 (NH37). The highway acts as a boundary to the Kaziranga Tiger Reserve, also home to the world-famous One-Horned Indian Rhino. It has been claimed that the proposed move would provide easy passage to animals moving between Kaziranga and the adjacent Karbi Anglong Elephant Reserve, which lies to the south of the tiger reserve. During floods, when Kaziranga gets submerged under water, animals cross over to Karbi Anglong, which is at a higher elevation. The state’s wildlife department has identified eight animal crossing points, including one for Hollock Gibbons (see ‘Proposed corridors’).

tableThe proposal has been made in response to an order issued by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in November 2013. A case filed by Right to Information (RTI) activist Rohit Choudhury in NGT in August 2013 pointed out that NH37 had become a dangerous passage for animals crossing over from one reserve to the other. Choudhury, who used RTI to obtain data from the government, concluded that vehicular accidents on the highway caused more than 250 animal deaths between 2003 and 2013. This includes two tiger deaths in 2005 and six leopard deaths in about a decade. Hog deer have seen the maximum casualties at 132 during the same period (see ‘Animal deaths on NH37 from 2003 to 2013’).

tableThe state government’s proposal also recommends effective traffic management on NH37, especially during monsoons, to safeguard the movement of animals till the flyovers are constructed. Government data shows that more than 6,000 vehicles pass through NH37 every day. The state government had promised in 1991 to decongest the stretch, but did not keep its word.

In the same year, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests gave clearance to a refinery in Numaligarh in Golaghat district of Assam. The refinery is located less than 20 km from Kaziranga. One of the preconditions for setting up the refinery was to denotify a stretch of about 66 km of the road that runs close to the reserve and create an alternative route for the passage of animals. Although the refinery was completed in 2000, the alternative route was not created, Choudhury says.

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