Issue :   
September 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.         September 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:August' 2018

WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT

Casualness harmful

Amita Singh

The Karad-Chipun state highway which passes through Sahyadri Tiger Reserve (STR) has become a matter of concern for conservationists. On the surface, a road widening in the forest area by a mere 3 mts appears benign as it may not affect the forest much. However, given the insensitivity of road engineers towards forest ecosystems coupled with their casualness towards the spirit of environmental and wild life regulations they fail to see the value of what they indispensably destroy for the roads they build.
Given that STR shares boundaries with the Koyna Tiger Reserve on one side and Chandoli National park on the other this road sets in an appalling, irretrievable and brutal destruction which neither the NHAI and the Ministry can dismiss with ease. Under the regulatory regime of forest and wildlife conservation, the government is committed to the 11th Five Year Plan’s centrally sponsored policy of an Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats, Recovery and Restoration of Critically Endangered Wildlife Species.

Interestingly, their connect with the National Highway Authority of India is neither substantive nor mandatory as a result most projects continue with a routine pari passu approvals in Assessment Reports of environment and wildlife. The Ministry of Environment in January 2017 had approved, ‘Ecofriendly Measures to Mitigate Impacts of Linear Infrastructures on Wildlife” guidelines as framed by the Wildlife Institute of India.
This was an extension of rules and regulations as adopted under the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980, Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, Environment (Protection) Act 1986 and the Biological Diversity Act 2002. All these regulations seem to be pushed to the backburner as the most vulnerable buffer zone of 10 kms between village Rasati to village Kemse-Ghatmatha, which is about 10 km long is most intruded. Since December 2017, excavators and tree fellers rolled into STR’s sensitive zone of many endangered animals including tigers and subsequently, brutal sights of maimed, bleeding and dead animals through vehicular traffic became a normal sight. Notwithstanding the knowledge about the unstoppable vehicular movement on this highway prompting the Ministry and the NHAI to widen the road, the road engineers chose culpable homicide to design resuscitation of this forest road.

On the surface, a road widening in the forest area by a mere 3 mts appears benign as it may not affect the forest much. However, given the insensitivity of road engineers towards forest ecosystems coupled with their casualness towards the spirit of environmental and wild life regulations they fail to see the value of what they indispensably destroy for the roads they build.

It is not just one case but the forest road builders in India since many decades have been engaging into these death trap designs for wildlife and parallel to that MOEFCC keeps rolling out the fancy laws which fail to touch this turbulence on the field. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2012 prohibited road building in Kaziranga National Park. However not everything reaches the NGT. The malaise is also with a large number of apathetic, unprofessional and un-belongingness of bureaucrats who are not committed to their responsibilities in a manner that they could provide a knowledgeable apolitical feedback to the lawmaker.

One would always notice that wildlife laws are good on surface but missing out on intricate details at the ground level which helps in nonimplementation, poaching and linear intrusions causing injury, disability and death to animals within their habitats. This is visible in a manner that States appoint their Chief Wildlife Wardens, constitute or mess with their Wildlife Advisory Boards, conduct a hurried Environment Impact Analysis which discount wildlife and habitat conservation realities alongside its ecosystem requirements, circumvent the spirit of laws due to administrative lethargy towards smaller animals which are the frontier borderline of prohibitive forest boundary and fail to calculate a segregated cost of waterfilled old trees, shrubs and creepers which the roadbuilders bring down.
This is irretrievable damage as the country sinks into the trap of drought, desertification and summer storms which costs much more than what the road widening brings to governments.

Forest cover of India is 21.34 per cent out of which the Protected Areas are a mere 4.89 per cent which is not everywhere a dense forest as required by animals to live in balance to nature.
There has been massive road intrusions into their very private hideouts. The behaviour of animals is changing due to the noise of drilling, moving excavators, road laying and vehicular traffic. Animals are completely dependent upon auditory signals or their sustenance, defence and reproduction.
None of the EIAs account for the cost of governance to manage mananimal conflicts, zoo management where captured wild animals are kept and cost of forest policing to catch poachers and contraband wildlife stuff. If one calculates the total intrusion of rail, road, power transmission lines, mining and hydro projects into the forests it would appear maddening deficit economics that governments play into except that there are fewer conservation economists left to this wilting green w o r l d .
An Expert Committee of MOEF in 2013 suggested through the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) that road building in forest areas should maintain the integrity of protected areas, however, nothing substantive emerged in case of clearances for road building.The NBWL in September 2017 went ahead and suggested guidelines on structural and non-structural measures for mitigating the impact of roads, railway lines and powerlines on wildlife including birds. This sketches a direction towards preventive resilience building in the forest areas and if developed in spirit , would go a long way in sensitizing forest road engineers.
No one can deny that forest roads are most expensive structures and can also do immense harm to the forest ecosystem, biodiversity and wildlife per se. This suggests that the road builders should not only consider costefficiency but also animal passes, wildlife crossings and tunnels for large herd type animals, tunnels and culverts for medium and small animals, canopy bridges for monkeys, green roofs for butterflies and birds, viaducts for amphibians etc.Most of these programmes can be easily incorporated in the Sustainable Development Goals as a large number of them are centrally sponsored programmes.
The road to a sustainable nation building is hidden in the manner we treat our forests and wildlife.