With Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar dismissing the opinion of Wildlife Institute of India (WII) experts regarding mitigation measures against the impact of widening the National Highway-7 adjacent to Pench National Park, the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) has started felling trees on the 37-km stretch between Mansar in Nagpur district to Khawasa in Madhya Pradesh.
The WII’s suggestion for two 1-km flyovers and a third of 300-m length was dumped by Union Surface Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari at a gathering in Pune in February in the presence of Javadekar and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and the NHAI had been directed to implement its own idea of 50-m underpasses.
The felling of over 3,000 trees has raised the heckles of conservationists. They have been opposing the decision to make the four-lane stretch without put in place sufficient mitigation measures, saying it will adversely and irreversibly affect a very important wildlife corridor connecting tiger areas in Madhya Pradesh to those in Maharashtra and down south.
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“This will fragment a Mowgli’s land — Pench Tiger Reserve of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. We won’t be able to ‘undo’ this destruction even if the Supreme Court passes any order (as the SLP has been filed in SC). We at NBWL had asked for bypasses for protected areas and tiger reserves so that we should not destroy our own established ‘tiger projects’ for ‘highway projects’. Hence, the Satpuda Foundation condemns this massive tree felling for widening of NH-7. I request Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene in support of the tigers and stop felling of trees, which is affecting two best tiger reserves in central India,” said Kishore Rithe, former member of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) and chief of wildlife NGO Satpuda Foundation.
Wildlife activist Valmik Thapaar said, “Most believe the WII chaired by the Union minister for environment, forests and climate change epitomises decision making for wildlife. Subsidised by the government, it is an arm of the ministry and usually supports government development agenda. If, however, the government of the day believes the advice of the highway authority takes precedence over WII, the time may have come to disband the WII and merge it with the highway authority under a new avtar, the ‘Wildlife and Highway Authority of India’— this could be the new future vision for India.”