New MoEF norms on roads to spark trouble for NHAI

November 21, 2013

Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN |

NAGPUR: The latest recommendations by a subcommittee of ministry of environment and forests ( MoEF) on roads in protected areas (PAs) may spark more trouble for road widening by the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) on NH-6 near Navegaon National Park and Mansinghdeo Wildlife Sanctuary on NH-7.

A six-member subcommittee headed by M K Ranjitsinh, member, NBWL, on September 28, has recommended to the MoEF that the status quo of the roads passing through national parks and tiger reserves shall remain the same.

The roads could be maintained and repaired in the best manner possible in their current form and present width. No widening or upgradation is to be allowed. If it is an existing tarred road, it shall be maintained as such and no widening of the tarred surface or the widening of the road itself, may be done.

More importantly, the guidelines will also be applicable for roads approaching or passing by national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and tiger reserves that are within a radius of 1km thereof, or within the eco-sensitive zone (ESZ), whichever of the two is lesser.

Wildlife experts say the recommendation will make matters worse for NHAI but will benefit wildlife, especially on NH7 and NH6, where four-laning cuts tiger corridor between Pench, Kanha, Nagzira, Navegaon and Tadoba and vice versa. On NH6, Navegaon National Park and New Navegaon Sanctuary are within 1km in certain patches. Similar is the case with Mansinghdeo on NH7.

The NHAI has submitted a formal proposal to Pench Tiger Reserve to seek wildlife clearance for road widening in patches which passes by Mansinghdeo, which is contiguous to Pench. This is after Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) clearance, which has asked NHAI to seek final clearance from NBWL. However, the latest recommendations will make it tough to get wildlife clearance as road widening in some patches virtually touches the sanctuary boundary.

Talking to TOI, Ranjitsinh said, “When you widen roads around a PA, construction activity not only disturbs the movement of wild animals but destroys its corridors. There are Supreme Court orders on restriction to radius roads passing PAs.”

On the impact of new guidelines, Ranjitsinh said, “I don’t know to what extent the guidelines will affect NH7 and NH6. We don’t say don’t develop the roads but the damage should be evaluated.”

Another member on the MoEF subcommittee said, “The new guidelines will affect four-laning on NH7 and NH6. The recommendations have come from NBWL subcommittee, and when the NHAI proposal comes before it, how will it be able to defy its own guidelines. The Pench corridor is already fragmented. Four-laning will further damage it and break forest contiguity.”

The committee was constituted by the MoEF on June 26 to frame comprehensive guidelines for construction and repair roads passing through PAs in the country.

Fundamental principles

* Principle of avoidance: The foremost option would be to altogether avoid areas that are within or in the vicinity of any PA and to find alternatives that are socially & ecologically more appropriate,

* Principle of realignment: Road projects must investigate and demonstrate that they have considered other alternative routes that avoid natural areas of high ecological value. This must be an integral feature of a project proposal and implementation documents. Realignments must also be developed in a transparent manner through consultation with local communities and wildlife considerations,

* Principle of restoration: In natural areas, existing roads that are in disuse, or evaluated to be inefficient or detrimental to their objects, shall be targeted for decommissioning and subsequent ecological restoration, as the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed.

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