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3 government agencies, NGO unite to save wildlife along border road

For cross-border animal movement, road on Nepal border to be elevated at 16 sites

Written by Jay Mazoomdaar | New Delhi |
October 21, 2014 2:37:33 am

At a time when green clearances for border infrastructure projects are being fast-tracked, a strategic road on the Indo-Nepal border is set to go the extra mile to save forests and wildlife of the 810-km-long trans-boundary Terai Arc landscape.

The Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and the Uttar Pradesh Public Works Department have joined hands with the state Forest Department to draw up a conservation plan which involves elevating road stretches at 16 sites — a total of 31 km will be elevated — and realigning three stretches to secure wildlife movement between India and Nepal.

B D Sharma, Director General of the SSB, told The Indian Express: “We support conservation and share the collective concerns of the stakeholders.”

Sources said the proposed changes to the border road plan will increase the project cost by 20-30 per cent though the actual figure will be known only after the detailed project reports (DPRs) are finalised.

Conceived during the term of the first UPA government, the 961-km road from Uttarakhand to Bihar will connect all SSB border outposts. In 2010, the Ministry of Home Affairs cleared the 640-km UP stretch with a budget of Rs 1,621 crore.

Work is set to begin in 12 segments of the road that do not involve forest land. The remaining 16 segments cut through the Dudhwa national park, three sanctuaries and three forest divisions, home to a rich population of globally endangered wildlife including tigers, elephants, rhinos and swamp deer.

The original road alignment would have made it a physical barrier, blocking movement of animals. To avoid habitat fragmentation and delay in project implementation, all parties concerned — user SSB, builder PWD, regulator Forest Department and environmental groups WWF-India and WWF-Nepal — came together in 2013 to find a solution.

S P Saxena, Chief Engineer of the Uttar Pradesh PWD, said: “This road is a must for the country’s security and these forests and animals are our national asset. We have agreed on a set of measures though these will be expensive.”

Two options were considered for the passage of animals — an elevated road with underpasses for animals and a natural animal overpass mounted on the road. The SSB ruled out the second option as a security threat since this would have created tunnels.

The PWD then suggested the “substantially costlier” option of elevated roads with animal underpasses 6 metre high and 30 metre wide, spacious enough for elephants.

Avinash Chandra, IG, SSB Frontier HQ, Lucknow, said the SSB wanted smooth connectivity to all its border posts and that has been ensured while finalising the realignments.

Rupak De, Chief Wildlife Warden, Uttar Pradesh, said: “It was important for different interest groups to sit together and find a middle ground. We have to finalise site-specific details and then set up a joint monitoring committee to ensure compliance during construction.”

Dipankar Ghose, Director, Species and Landscapes, WWF-India, is cautiously optimistic: “The conservation benefits justify additional costs and we hope financial considerations will not come in the way of this landmark consensus.”

“Also, India is financing a similar road project in Nepal that will run close and almost parallel to this road. Unless the two governments come together to incorporate similar measures in that project, all the good work on the Indian side may not be enough to secure this landscape,” he said.

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