Vijay Pinjarkar 
Nagpur: It seems the National Highways Authority India (NHAI) under Nitin Gadkari holds sway over decisions taken by the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) headed by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It has ignored the Standing Committee on wildlife mitigation measures for National Highway 7 (NH7) four-laning in the State of Madhya Pradesh.

The NHAI, which has already refused to implement mitigation measures as recommended by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) & National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) between Mansar & Khawasa (37km) in the State of Maharashtra, is also rejecting the mitigation plan approved by NBWL (the country's topmost decision-making body on projects affecting protected areas), for the diversion of 4.493ha forest land from Pench-Mowgli Wildlife Sanctuary, in the State of Madhya Pradesh. 

The NBWL committee headed by the environment minister Prakash Javadekar, in its 31st meeting on August 12-13, 2014, agreed to adhere to mitigation measures suggested by NTCA & WII to divert 4.493ha forest land for four-laning on Seoni-Khawasa border. 

The 31st meeting had approved the design and locations suggested by WII for the construction of culverts and a single underpass of 1km length and 7 m. height. The NBWL also accepted that two proposed flyovers would be replaced by an underground tunnel. 

However, in a turnaround due to NHAI influence, the minutes of the 34th meeting of NBWL on June 2nd 2015 clearly state that, according to representation by NHAI, it was not possible to construct a 1-km-long underpass as stipulated by WII and the tunnel as amended by NTCA and recommended by the Standing Committee, due to topographical features of the site. It was also stated that it would require more land and more tree felling in the additional area.

Based on NHAI representation, the NBWL agreed that WII, NTCA & NHAI will review the proposed mitigation measures specific to the site conditions and feasibility of execution. The group would finalize the matter within a month with an executable and workable plan. The outcome will be placed before the committee in the next meeting. 

"This only shows that NHAI is not at all concerned about wildlife. The NBWL, a body of senior experts and officials, must have cleared the mitigation plan by collective agreement. If institutions like the NBWL can be dominated by NHAI, what purpose the wildlife institutions? Every proposal is being cleared," said some former NBWL members. 

The NHAI has already rejected three mitigation reports by WII & NTCA in Maharashtra State and is hell-bent on constructing 3-4 underpasses of 50-metre only. The same model is being considered nationally for highways passing through wildlife areas.

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