Ranthambhore tigers, Chambal gharials and a host of other species could be in trouble due to the clearance given to the highway proposals
The Union government has approved forest land diversion for three highway proposals in Rajasthan’s Ranthambhore and Mukundara Tiger Reserves, disregarding the Wildlife Institute of India (WII)’s views, a Right to Information (RTI) application by Down To Earth has revealed.
The proposals were approved October 5 last year and January 5 this year by the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL).
The proposals are part of the eight-lane Delhi-Mumbai Greenfield Highway project under Bharatmala. They pertain to three stretches of the Greenfield Highway. These stretches are:
In addition to Ranthambhore and Mukundara, the proposed highways will cut across the Gandhi Sagar, Bhainsrorgarh and National Chambal Sanctuaries in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Bharatmala is an umbrella programme for the highways sector that focuses on optimising efficiency of freight and passenger movement across the country by bridging critical infrastructure gaps.
Two projects — Itawa village to and beyond the Chambal River near Banda Hera and from Itawa to after the Chambal River near Durjanpura village — were approved by the NBWL January 5, 2021. The approval for the proposal from Bhenda Hera village to Moondiya village was recommended by NBWL October 5, 2020.
The WII warned the government September 28, 2020 that the highways would fragment wildlife habitat in the two reserves, according to the documents obtained through the RTI.
The subsequent anthropogenic disturbances and road kills will not only impact tigers but a host of other wildlife including Indian wolf, striped hyena, leopard, caracal, chinkara, chital, and sambar and sloth bear, it said.
Besides the tiger reserves, the highways will also cut across one of the last remaining strongholds of critically endangered gharials.
The WII September 28, 2020, in a letter to the Union environment ministry, categorically said the proposals should not be carried out.
The project site in question in Ranthambhore recorded tiger presence and is a functional dispersal route between Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve and Ramgarh Visdhari Wildlife Sanctuary in Bundi, Rajasthan.
According to WII, any further disturbances in this fragile ecosystem might collapse the extant connectivity. Loss of connectivity was likely to decrease the gene flow, increase the stress and vulnerability of the Ranthambhore tiger population and prove detrimental to their population.
“The highway will severely affect the meta-population structure and the long- term persistence of tigers in the landscape. The semi-arid zone tiger populations (of Ranthambhore) are most vulnerable to extinctions due to habitat loss and population decline. Therefore, further disturbance caused by the highway will be detrimental for the tiger population,” WII wrote to the ministry.
WII also wrote that mitigation measures could only be adopted if a part of the road passed through critical wildlife habitat and not in case of an entire road cutting across a PA. “The best strategy could be avoidance of highway passage from this region,” the institute concluded.
“All the above three proposals will have severe negative impacts on the biodiversity that may be very difficult to address through mitigation measures, which may require a detailed study of the entire section of the proposed highway including the non-forest sections,” the WII said.
The NBWL, however, recommended all three projects, imposing minor conditions like no work at night, prohibition of extraction of materials from within the PAs or dumping of muck.
DTE’s calls to Rakesh Kr Jagenia, deputy inspector-general of forest under the Union environment ministry, went unanswered.
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