Road diversion

Transport ministry changes track, proposes road skirting Pench

By Sumana Narayanan
Published: Monday 15 March 2010

On february 15, the Union road transport minister, Kamal Nath, proposed an alternative route to avoid widening the national highway (NH) passing through the Pench tiger reserve. His ministry had till now been pushing for widening the road stretch on NH 7, connecting Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh with Nagpur in Maharashtra. The stretch passes through the Pench-Kanha corridor. The new alignment would avoid the forests while connecting several towns like Seoni and Chhindwara. Environmentalists were concerned the highway would fragment the critical tiger habitat. “The minister of state for environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, had visited the area in January. His inputs are awaited,” said Ashok Kumar of the non-profit, Wildlife Trust of India that has petitioned the Supreme Court to scrap the project.

A few days before the last hearing on January 29, amicus curae Harish Salve had moved a note suggesting the road widening should be allowed and that nhai should be told to build flyovers for the animals. But on the date of the hearing, Salve sought the court’s permission to withdraw the note after it was criticized by the media. He said he just wanted to “balance development with conservation of wildlife”.

The road-widening project was earlier opposed by the Wildlife Institute of India, the National Tiger Conservation Society and the court-appointed Central Empowered Committee. All of them suggested an alignment that would skirt the Kanha-Pench landscape. The project has been rejected twice by the National Board for Wildlife.

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