Vijay Pinjarkar,TNN
NAGPUR: The Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) Prakash Javadekar, who should be protecting the interests of forests and wildlife, has himself given in to the four-laning proposal between Mansar and Khawasa on NH7.

Under the RTI Act, TOI procured minutes of the meeting on the NH7 road widening held on February 13th, in Pune. The minutes bare all as to how Javadekar surrendered before the transport & highways minister Nitin Gadkari. Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis was also present.

The meeting was called to take a final decision on mitigation measures on the 37-km stretch of the NH-7 between Mansar and Khawasa as suggested by the apex wildlife body Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, after Supreme Court direction.

The WII suggested elevated underpasses of 1,000 metres at two places and one of 300 metres and six other structures at other vulnerable spots. However, while the six structures were acceptable to the NHAI, it refused to construct the three elevated underpasses owing to cost. On the contrary, NHAI suggested 50-metre underpasses with adequate guide walls.

The 37-km patch is a vital corridor as it encompasses Pench Tiger Reserve and Mansinghdeo wildlife sanctuary near Chorbahuli and Deolapar ranges. There are several highly sensitive spots from where wild animals cross towards the other side of the road. "If elevated underpasses are not constructed, four-laning will break the corridor," wildlife experts said.

During the Pune meeting, Gadkari had threatened forest officials with suspension and had his way in getting the NHAI plan approved. Interestingly, two sets of minutes were prepared of the meeting.

The first minutes, copy of which is with the TOI, were released on February 18th in which Javadekar had asked the forest officials to briefly respond to the suggestion by NHAI for reducing the size of the structures, which in his opinion were unreasonable and unnecessary.

However, a petition was filed in NGT (Delhi), which on February 20th, granted a stay on tree felling for linear projects like highways. After the NGT stay, the minutes of the Pune meeting were put in abeyance.

Fresh minutes were prepared and released on February 24th. In this set, Javadekar's view point was changed and stated: "The state forest department should 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-laning of NH7."

Top conservationists asked how, instead of supporting his own department, can Javadekar say the structures suggested by WII were unreasonable and unnecessary? He did not visit the spot even once to verify how important the corridor was before making such comments.

On March 18th, Javadekar was sent an e-mail to get his reaction, but he did not respond to it, even after four days.

Already tree felling has started from Mansar. The issue assumes significance as the NHAI plan which is being enforced in between Mansar and Khawasa, will also be implemented on the Madhya Pradesh side of Pench and on NH6 forest patches between Sakoli and Deori.

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