No go

By Kirtiman Awasthi
Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

Court committee stops road expansion in sanctuary

THE Supreme Court appointed Central Empowered Committee (cec) has halted a road expansion project on the periphery of the Pench Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh. The National Highway Authority of India (nhai) had started cutting trees in the sanctuary for upgrading the existing highway into a four-lane one.

The trees were being cut without waiting for permission from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (moef). This was brought to the notice of cec by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (ntca) that has been at loggerheads with the highway authority over the latter's plan to upgrade NH 7 bordering the tiger reserve in Seoni district.

The highway project was taken up by the cec after the Wildlife Trust of India (wti) moved a petition for stopping the project. The petition said road widening would fragment wildlife habitat and restrict movement of wildlife between Pench and Kanha reserve.

The cec had then asked the ntca to submit a report on the impact the road widening will have on wildlife. In its report, ntca opposed the project saying it will irreversibly damage the tiger habitat. The project is a part of the North-South corridor and covers a distance of 8.7 kilometre. It passes through the tiger reserve and the reserve forest contiguous to it and requires clearances from the National Board for Wildlife and moef. The board rejected the project twice. It was turned down the second time when it was found that Madhya Pradesh government's principal chief conservator of forests and the chief wildlife warden had given contradictory statements on the project's impact on wildlife. The state forest department accepted that the project would impact wildlife and had suggested construction of flyways and underpasses to get around the problem. These modifications were found unfeasible for tigers and their large prey animals by ntca.

"We have requested the empowered committee to ask nhai to opt for any alternative road alignment that will pose minimum threat to wildlife habitat," said Ashok Kumar of wti.

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