Updated: August 26, 2021 9:06:42 am
The National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) has sought clearance from the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) to permit them to divert nearly 24 acres of Bandipur Tiger Reserve land to expand the existing highway NH-181 (earlier called NH-67) from Melukamanahalli to Kekkanahalla for a distance of 13.2 km.
Two highways pass through Bandipur Tiger Reserve (NH-181 and NH-766) and the one proposed to be widened mostly caters to tourists traveling to Ooty and other areas.
Wildlife activist Guruprasad Timmapur stated that the proposed expansion of the highway falls under category ‘A’ project as per the Environment Impact Assessment Notification of 2006 as it falls within the national park.
“In addition, the eco-sensitive zone notification for Bandipur Tiger Reserve mandates that an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) is required for the widening of the roads. However, the application filed by NHAI claims that no EIA is required for this project which the conservationists have pointed out is a blatant violation of the laws,” the activist said.
Considering the disturbance caused by the highways passing through Bandipur Tiger Reserve the High Court of Karnataka had ordered the closure of roads at night times for vehicular movement barring emergency vehicles and 16 public transport buses.
“This highway already has a huge impact on wildlife by obstructing the movement of animals, mortality of wildlife due to vehicular accidents, impact on wildlife behaviour, pollution due to waste and noise. Several wildlife species including tiger, elephant, leopard, chital, sambar, barking deer, langur, rusty-spotted cat, etc. have all died on the highways that pass through Bandipur Tiger Reserve. Innumerable numbers of reptiles, birds, and amphibians lose their lives which go unaccounted for,” Timmapur said.
The sub-committee of the National Board for Wildlife in their report titled Guidelines for Roads in Protected Areas had stated that there should be a status quo on roads passing through National Parks and core critical tiger habitats. It further clarifies that the roads could be maintained and repaired in the best manner possible in their current form and present width. It prohibits widening or upgrading of the roads.
“If it is an existing tar road, it shall be maintained as such and no widening of the tarred surface of the widening of the road itself may be done,” the guideline reads.
In the letter dated May 29 this year the Executive Engineer, NHAI, Bengaluru wrote to the Assistant Executive Engineer, NHAI, Mysuru “to start without any hindrance from the forest Department”.
“Places like Bandipur merely form 1% of this country’s geographical area and this proposed expansion should not be permitted at any cost. The current laws and guidelines also do not allow for the widening of this highway,” Timmapur commented.
Principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife) Vijaykumar Gogi told The Indian Express, “There are no such proposals before us. If at all anything has to happen NHAI cannot directly approach the union government and then it will flow down. The procedure calls them to apply to the state forest department at the level of nodal officer (forest conservation) and then simultaneously they need to move an application to the Wildlife Board.”
Former Principal Chief Conservator of Forest, (Head of Forest Forces), Karnataka, B.K. Singh informed that for the first time in June 2009 night traffic was banned/ restricted on two National Highways through Bandipur Tiger Reserve. “Thereafter several attempts were made by the Kerala government to remove the restrictions, but the High Court of Karnataka and Supreme Court supported and restrictions with some modifications were confirmed and continued. Last three years widening, underpasses/ over bridges on both roads have been discussed and the proposals are found to be detrimental to conservation of flora and fauna. The widening of roads should be outright rejected permanently and the case should not be allowed to be reopened every now and then,” he explained.
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