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Saving tigers caught in the headlights


THE HINDU
NEHA SINHA

Any decision to expand roadways must take into account the shrinking wildlife spaces.

On April 6, a unique State Environment and Forest Ministers’ conference took place in New Delhi, the first of its kind under the Narendra Modi government. The Prime Minister, Ministers of State for environment and forests and other officialsdiscussed agenda items related to the environment, and worked towards finalising proposed changes to India’s environmental laws. These agenda items, in the Ministry’s terms, included clearances, ease of doing business, and development.

While there has been a lot of rhetoric in the past few months over ‘balancing’ environment and development, the acid test for this complex issue is still in the making. Perhaps one of the most classic trials is unfolding in the backyard of Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh: the playground for Rudyard Kipling’s man-cub Mowgli, the site for one of India’s most impressive tiger landscapes in India, and the location for the proposed expansion of a newer, wider, National Highway (NH). The question is: who gets to cross the road: a truck, a tourist car, or a tiger?

The National Highways Authority of India wants to widen NH 7 into a four-lane highway in areas where it passes through the Pench Tiger Reserve, and in the living corridor between the Pench and Kanha Tiger Reserves. With sal forest cover packed with tigers and their prey, this dense and enigmatic forest complex is one of the most well-known in the country. It is widely reported that the Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari, has placed tactical pressure on the Environment Ministry to agree to NH 7’s expansion, which would entail cutting thousands of trees on forest land, and cutting off wild animal movement. Further, taking suo moto note of the poor condition of the road, the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court ordered tree-felling for expanding and widening (not just repairing) the highway, for which many trees have been cut. And this was done without even requisite clearances.




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