The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF) has asked the Uttarakhand government to consider avoiding sensitive areas of the Shivalik Elephant Reserve while exploring land suitable to use for the expansion of Dehradun’s Jolly Grant Airport.
The forest conservation division of the MoEF has made this observation in response to a Uttarakhand government proposal for the diversion of 87 hectare (ha) of forest land in Dehradun district for the expansion of the airport.
Assistant Inspector General of Forests Sandeep Sharma, in a letter to the Uttarakhand Forest Department, said the area proposed for diversion is a ‘High Conservation Value’ area and will cause fragmentation of riverside forests situated between the existing runway and the river. “Out of the 87.0185 ha proposed area to be diverted, 47 ha area falls under MDF [moderately dense forest]. Therefore the State Govt, may explore alternatives for the proposal such as acquiring area lying north of existing runway,” read the letter.
“…The entire proposed forest area for diversion falls within the Shivalik Elephant Reserve and elephant corridors within its 1 km radius. Moreover, the notified Kansora-Barkot Elephant Corridor is located within 5 km radius. The state government should consider avoiding these sensitive areas and explore alternative lands,” it said.
Sharma also pointed out that the proposed land is located within a 10-km radius of Rajaji National Park/Tiger Reserve. “Therefore, status of the Wildlife Clearance/comments of Chief Wildlife Warden and NTCA may be furnished,” the letter reads.
The expansion project includes development of the airport, parking area, a new ATC tower and extending the existing runway to 3.5 km to meet international airport standards. A state official said the expansion will ensure that the airport is suitable for operating more than one multi-mission chopper, like the IAF’s Chinook, at any given time.
Recently, the Uttarakhand cabinet approved a proposal for the expansion of a helipad at the Kedarnath shrine to make it suitable for operating Chinooks. “But that helipad can’t be used in winters as snow covers the entire area. For such situations, Dehradun airport must be equipped,” the official said.
The proposal sent to the MoEF itself says that the area is a part of the Shivalik Elephant Reserve and it falls within a 10-km radius of Rajaji National Park. “Thus there is regular movement of wild animals, especially elephants, from one area to another, leading to man-animal conflict affecting humans as well as wild animals. Thus to mitigate the conflict, Dehradun FD is proposing a wildlife mitigation plan subject to approval of CWLW [Chief Wildlife Warden], Uttarakhand,” the proposal says.
The mitigation plan proposes construction of elephant proof wall, solar fencing, weed eradication, construction of water holes, purchase of tranquilizing gun and other rescue equipments
A senior official in the state Forest Department said, “A detailed reply to ministry’s observations will be sent very soon. Reports are being collected from the officials of the forest division concerned.”
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