As many as 29 leading conservationists and wildlife scientists have come together to appeal to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and Wildlife Institute of India (WII) to save “the most important” Kanha-Pench wildlife corridor by ensuring that the original mitigation measures suggested by the latter in 2012 are implemented.
“If any dilution of mitigation measures contained in the May 2012 report is now recommended, which itself would be a major compromise, it would fly against the spirit of good governance promised by the government, they said.“Further, the very credibility of WII as a scientific institution will be at stake, both nationally and internationally. Changing scientific recommendations without any credible data to the contrary, would only lead to the inevitable conclusion that it is being drawn on the basis of political compulsions,” they added.
WII had recommended 10 underpasses of seven metres height each, totalling 5.5 kilometres along the stretch of National Highway 7 (NH7) that extends from Mansar in Nagpur to Seoni in Madhya Pradesh, as a wildlife mitigation measure to minimise the damage caused by its widening, cutting through the Kanha-Pench wildlife corridor. Proposal for the widening has been made. The National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) had questioned the need for the structures. In January 2015, however, the measures were reduced to underpasses a total of just 2.7 kilometres long and 4.5 metres high.
With NHAI continuing to red-flag the measures, WII further reduced them to 2.2 kilometre length with an improvement of 0.5 metre height. “Scientific merit has been completely ignored while reducing these measures. The 2012 WII report is based on a four-year study conducted by WII after wide consultation with various stakeholders. To reduce the mitigation measures recommended by the WII and NTCA raises serious and fundamental questions of scientific integrity and of upholding the law in the absence of any data to support the reduction in measures,” the group said.
“Extensive camera-trapping since 2006 has recorded tigers dispersing between Pench and Kanha tiger reserves. The data and analysis show that tigers are likely to disperse between Kanha and Pench. The best patches of contiguous forested habitat are present in the corridor between Pench and Kanha. The corridors need to be given legal status and mitigated with appropriate green infrastructure for development projects within corridor habitats to ensure continued gene flow between populations,” the experts have emphasised, quoting some prominent scientific studies from across the world.
The experts drew the attention of the two institutions towards NHAI’s latest submission before the Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court. With this, they have appealed to the institutions to insist that the High Court implements the 2012 WII measures. “The NH7 issue has resulted in an unfortunate fait accompli situation. In all such future cases, the principle of avoidance must be followed as per the recommendations of the NBWL sub-committee on Guidelines for Roads in Protected Areas.”
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