India has recently inaugurated its first dedicated underpass for Wildlife Corridor on NH 44 which passes through Kanha-Pench Corridor. There has been Proofs through camera installed that wild animals are using it.
Q. How do roads impact wildlife, and why should anyone bother?
A. Wild animals are vulnerable to vehicular traffic passing through forests, especially at night when, blinded by bright headlights, even swift species like cats freeze.
Over time, as animals learn to avoid roads, busy multilane highways become barriers that hinder wildlife movement, fragment populations, and restrict gene flow.
By blocking access to potential habitats, roads, railway lines and irrigation canals act as a major contributor to habitat loss.
Q. What is India’s policy stand on roads through Protected Areas?
A. The National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), the apex advisory body on all wildlife-related matters said no to new roads through protected forests in 2013.
But it was open to the widening of existing roads with adequate mitigation measures irrespective of the cost, only if alternative alignments were not available. The government accepted this as policy in December 2014.
In February 2018, the NBWL made it mandatory for every road/rail project proposal to include a wildlife passage plan as per guidelines framed by Wildlife Institute of India.
In 2016, the Roads Ministry sanctioned the construction of 25 leafy underpasses for wildlife movement as part of 10 national highways that pass through wildlife sanctuaries and forests. The National Highways Authority of India, following the Bombay High Court's directives, constructed nine underpasses along NH-44, offering a safe passage for animals who no longer are expected to cross roads at risk to their lives.
However, features like underpasses are unlikely to suffice in dense wildlife-rich forests where too many animals compete for space.
Q. What is stand of Wild Life Institute of India in this?
A. The Wildlife Conservation Trust, in its report presented in May 2020 , outlined some key points with regards to emerging policy solutions that would both safeguard the wildlife without compromising our infrastructural needs. The WII had raised the issue of not having the corridors spatially defined and lack of timely information on project in public domain
Q. What is there in Report?
A. The WII report identified more than 150 'legally explicit tiger corridors between Protected Areas in the Central Indian and the Eastern Ghats landscape, and discovered that only 26 of these were actually identified and tagged by the state and central governments. 399 of the Roads passing through tiger corridors could negatively impact connectivity. The proponents of 345 of these proposals were clueless about the impact on wildlife corridors.
Q. What is best way to deal with this dilemna?
A. 'The implementation agency must do things which are necessary for the survival and dispersal of wild animals. There should be corridors connecting the habitats. See, forests are not healthy when they are in islands, and animals need to travel between them. Therefore, we need better connectivity. 'It's premature to declare these underpasses a success. Even if it is positive, it should not be an excuse to openly start building linear infrastructure in wildlife habitats.