In a meeting held on February 13 in Pune, Surface Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis dismissed the Wildlife Institute of India’s recommendations to build flyovers and underpasses to allow movement of animals across NH-7 in the Pench-Kanha tiger forest landscape, calling these “impractical and un-executable”.
While Gadkari and his ministry vehemently opposed the mitigation plan chalked up by the WII for the four-laning of the highway, Javadekar also discarded the views of the premier institute falling under his own ministry. Soon after, the minutes of the meeting were edited.
The minutes released by Virendra Tiwari, Chief Conservator of Forests, HQ, on February 18 said Javadekar had asked state forest officials “to briefly respond [to] the suggestion of NHAI for reducing the size of the three structures which in his opinion were also unreasonable and unnecessary”.
The revised minutes, issued on February 24 by a desk officer, said the minister had asked state forest officials “to briefly respond [to] the suggestion of NHAI and consider a more practical solution that will be cost effective while serving the purpose of allowing wildlife to cross the highway safely after the four landing of NH-7.”
Tiwari said the revision was “nothing unusual”. “The minutes required some correction… We need to take all the three ministers’ consent,” he said. He refused to confirm if the minutes were issued on February 18 without checking with Javadekar.
Meanwhile, the WII’s mitigation plans have been watered down. The institute had already reduced the scale of its first mitigation plan for a 37-km stretch of NH-7 and slashed its expenditure from Rs 750 crore to Rs 335 crore.
Of the nine structures proposed, the major components — two 1-km-long flyovers and one 300-metre underpass — have come down to four 50-metre underpasses. This will further reduce the cost, to Rs 122 crore.