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SC panel to examine jumbo underpass height dip in Rajaji

The Central Empowered Committee (CEC) arrange by the Supreme Court has determined to “examine the records relied upon” by the Environment ministry for stress-free the circumstances it earlier fastened whereas clearing the 4.7-km stretch of the Laldhang-Chillarkhal highway that runs by means of Rajaji nationwide park.

An 8-metre-high wildlife underpass was set as a situation to approve a freeway challenge, however it has now been relaxed.

At its final assembly on June 11, the Standing Committee of National Board of Wildlife (SC-NBWL) modified the “condition of construction of an underpass of 705-m with a height of 8-m” imposed in December 2019 to a 400-m underpass with a height of 6-m. The underpass is important for permitting actions of elephants and different wildlife throughout the highway between the Rajaji and the Corbett forest landscapes.

In a letter to the Environment secretary on July 7, CEC member-secretary Amarnatha Shetty identified that whereas clearing the 30-km Haridwar-Nagina part of NH-74, the identical SC-NBWL assembly stipulated a minimal height of 8-10 metre — “thrice the height of an adult bull elephant” — for underpasses in elephant panorama.

“Since the same population of elephants share the habitat involved in both these projects, there can not be different height prescriptions in the mitigation measure… (which) can not be decided taking into consideration the cost of (construction),” wrote Shetty, conveying that the CEC would “like to examine the records relied upon in revising the condition”.

Chaired by the prime minister, the NBWL is constituted below the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and serves because the apex advisory physique for all wildlife-related issues. Its standing committee meets periodically to resolve on initiatives in and round protected forests.

In March 2019, The Indian Express had reported how the Uttarakhand authorities diverted land belonging to Rajaji Tiger Reserve, with out looking for approval from statutory authorities, for widening and blacktopping a forest path as a part of establishing a freeway alongside the previous Kandi highway that might reduce travelling distance between Garhwal and Kumaon. In June 2019, the CEC positioned its findings earlier than the SC, and the development work was halted pending inexperienced clearances.

Subsequently, underlining the significance of the forest hall for elephants, tigers and different wildlife, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) in 2019 really helpful that an 8-metre-high underpass — single of a number of —totalling 705 metre in width would have to be offered whereas upgrading the 4.7-km stretch of the forest highway. The SC-NBWL imposed the identical situation whereas clearing the challenge.

As lately as final October, the SC-NBWL reiterated the situation whereas rejecting the Uttarakhand authorities’s request to cut back the underpass width to 470-m and height to 6-m. This January, nevertheless, a committee with NBWL knowledgeable member Raman Sukumar and a consultant every from the NTCA, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and the Uttarakhand authorities was shaped to reevaluate the matter.

In their report, the NTCA and the WII sought to double the width of the underpass to 1,410 metre — 30 per cent of the 4.7-km stretch, as per the WII tips made in session with MoEF and NHAI in 2019 — whereas the remainder of the panel really helpful a width of 300-400 metre with a height of 5-6 metre.

At the final assembly of SC-NBWL on June 11, Uttarakhand forest minister HS Rawat mentioned that “due to non-construction of the road, lives of around 100 people have been lost during the COVID-19 pandemic” as sufferers had to journey lengthy distances to Najibabad or Bijnor. Submitting that an underpass of the prescribed dimensions would price Rs 80 crore which the state was unable to bear, Rawat requested that the size and the height of the underpass be diminished to 470-m and 6-m.

While NTCA member-secretary SP Yadav declined to remark, a senior official who attended the SC-NBWL assembly mentioned that the Authority agreed to the diminished height of 6-m so long as a crew of technical specialists from WII and NHAI selected the width of the underpass. “Instead, it was arbitrarily decided to fix the width at 400-m even though the state itself was agreeable to a 470-m underpass,” he mentioned.

SC-NBWL member and elephant knowledgeable Raman Sukumar defended the choice. “We are not talking of a busy four-lane highway which will require an elevated stretch across the entire forest area to allow wildlife movement. The road in question is 3-m-wide with paved shoulders of 1.5 m on both sides, and the traffic is minimal, for now,” he mentioned.

As a thumb rule, the broader the view of the habitat on the opposite aspect of an underpass, the extra it’s probably to be utilized by wild animals. That is why highway width, visitors load and the scale of the biggest wild species current in the panorama are factored in whereas figuring out the satisfactory openness ration — height and width — for a wildlife passageway.

“Naturally, mitigation measures will have to be reviewed if and when this road needs further upgrade. For now, along with the underpass recommended, speed-breakers at regular intervals and restriction on night traffic should be sufficient,” mentioned Sukumar.

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