Friday, August 26, 2011

Infrastructure development in protected areas is road to death for wildlife

Infrastructure development in protected areas is road to death for wildlife

Sanctuaries in Gujarat are changing, and changing with an aggression and speed which has left environmentalists shocked - to say the least.

One of the main agendas in most meetings of the state wildlife board is to transfer land from sanctuaries for construction of roads. In some cases it is 'black-top' roads, in others it is kuchcha roads. But essentially, it is to facilitate greater access to these protected areas.

The latest has been a proposal put forth by the state government in the state wildlife board meeting last month for diversion of 0.714 hectare of forest land for construction of Poily-Ranjitpura approach road passing through Jambughoda wildlife sanctuary. A proposal for diversion of 1.5 hectare land for dedicated freight corridor railway line through Balaram Ambaji sanctuary was also on the agenda. Yet another proposal is for clearance of dedicated freight corridor railway line passing near Thol Wildlife sanctuary as close as 700 metre.

A senior forest official at the helm of the proceedings of this meeting refused to confirm or deny whether they were cleared or not. These proposals will now be sent to the Centre for further clearance before implementation. But they have already started drawing flak.

Former principal chief conservator of forests Sanat Chavan is dejected at the number of roads being built through the sanctuaries and categorically states that construction of new roads should be halted.

"Existing mud roads should not be made into tar roads. Firstly, because mud roads give an indication of lion movements through pug marks; and secondly, with tar roads, vehicles can speed, which will definitely kill wildlife," he says.

A senior member of the National Board for Wildlife in India (NBWLI) — the apex body that grants permission for any activity/change in wildlife sanctuaries — informed DNA earlier this year that they received the maximum number of proposals for construction of roads through sanctuaries from Gujarat. "Some we can see are innocuous, but there are a few which we feel can potentially affect the wildlife corridor," the official said.

A proposal for constructing a ring road around the Gir Forest is also pending with the Union ministry of environment and forests. While a section of naturalists believe that any kind of additional construction of roads is not good for wildlife, another section of wildlife observers claim the Asiatic Lions anyway migrate through populated villages, so a road will not be a major obstruction.

"The number of vehicles passing through the sanctuary for various purposes will decrease significantly as they will now pass only through the periphery, which will reduce the disturbance already being caused to the animals," principal chief secretary environment and forests SK Nanda says.

Chavan, who specialised in Gir forest conservation for decades, says the sanctuary has saturated its lion carrying capacity.

"The wild cats are spilling outside and they do not know human boundaries," he said. However, the Central government has reportedly expressed apprehension that the speeding vehicles could harm the animals, especially in the night.

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