Website by AQEEL FAROOQI  

 


 

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OTHER ARTICLES

Problems of identification of camera-trapped tigers
Indian Wildlife - challenges in the new millennium
The greying of India
On the road to extinction
A Tribute to Rumbha - the elephant  
State development project threatens state bird - Sarus
Shahtoosh ban gains momentum worldwide
The road to disaster
Killing nilgais in the name of crop protection
Warring NGO's may spell doom for the tiger
Where have all the sparrows gone?
Cuckoos that fly out of crows' nests
Corbett park woes continue to mount
A question on post mortem examinations in the wild
Is it time to 'cry wolf' again?
Lifting of US sanctions may boost wildlife conservation
Migratory waterfowl may be hit by war in Afghanistan
UP wetlands to provide improved habitat to waterfowl
Anthrax as a potent wildlife killer
Man-elephant conflict takes heavy toll
Demoiselle cranes fly to safety in India
How long lasting are conservation victories
Fake tiger skins : a knotty disguise
Who cares for the wild here anyway?
A tribute to Charger - the long living tiger
Draining of wetlands threatening wildlife
Wildlife management needs rapid response units
Dudhwa loses another tiger
Indian Wildlife Board meets after five years
 
WILDLIFE WINDOW | Aqeel Farooqi

Hindustan Times, Lucknow | July 11, 2001

 

THE ROAD TO DISASTER

 

With the cleaving out of Uttaranchal from the state of Uttar Pradesh, the long-standing aspirations of its people to acquire statehood for their region, may have been fulfilled. But in doing so, the political scythe unwittingly inflicted the unkindest cut on countless people like me, who prided themselves on being denizens of a state which boasted of such wild havens as Dudhwa, Corbett and Rajaji national parks, not to speak of a lofty mountain range within which nestled many other places of greater pristine grandeur.

If forfeiting its green crown was a great loss to Uttar Pradesh, the fledgling state found itself flush with a relatively high percentage of forest cover, and a rich biodiversity that came along with it. From the wildlife conservationists’ viewpoint, the new state has inherited this immense forest wealth not for exploitation or financial gain, but as a natural heritage that is sacrosanct, and to be honestly preserved.

No doubt there is the need for the new state to enhance basic infrastructure like roads, in order to set the pace for economical development and self-sustenance in vital sectors like transport and tourism, on which it is heavily dependent. But this development has to be carried out carefully, without inviting opposition from environmental groups and activists who are of the focused view that they would blow the whistle on any large-scale developmental activity in Uttaranchal, if it is carried out without taking environmental concerns into account

As it happened, one of the first few developmental projects of the government turned out to be a highly contentious issue. This project involved the construction of a proposed highway from Kotdwar to Kalagarh and on to Ramnagar, on an existing route alignment that passed through the Corbett Tiger Reserve along its southern boundary, with several stretches of the planned road traversing the core areas of the tiger reserve between Khara Gate and Kalagarh town, while the remainder largely running through the buffer zone.

As expected, the conservationists were up in arms and managed to get a stay order from the Supreme Court in April last. The order was passed during proceedings in an ongoing PIL on tiger conservation, when Solicitor General Harish Salve mentioned an interim application submitted by the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), which clearly outlined the apprehension that such a high way through the Corbett Tiger Reserve would be disastrous for wildlife, bringing in its wake a high frequency of heavy vehicular movement, proliferation of road-side establishments for food and vehicular maintenance, thereby causing noise and disturbance levels to reach mind-boggling levels in this hitherto prime wildlife habitat.

Thanks to the Supreme Court directives, the highway construction has been stayed for the moment, but it is far from being a permanent solution to the problem. Considering that road transport is the key to development, it is understandable that the compulsive road building activity of the Uttaranchal government is ostensibly guided by the objective that movement of commercial vehicles within the state should be made possible without them having to criss-cross through Uttar Pradesh roads. To create such a road network, it would necessitate new route alignments. At present however, the existing road network makes it incumbent upon vehicles plying between far-flung origins and destinations within Uttaranchal, to make use of roads lying in UP jurisdiction - and thereby becoming liable for payment of various taxes that accrue to the UP Transport department.

Obviously this dual taxation, as well as the compulsion to traverse longer distances on circuitous routes through UP, had become a point of contention for Uttaranchal transporters, and the need to provide them solace in this regard must have been the priority which determined the state government’s decision to go ahead with the highway construction.

However, the thing to note here is the evident glee with which this remedy was sought to be applied. It clearly points towards the tremendous benefits that lie in store for wood contractors and the timber industry through the execution of such projects. This can be gauged by the fact that by the time the stay was ordered, around 7000 trees had already been felled in the process.

It is this unholy speed which is blatantly exhibited in implementation of destructive projects, which raises doubts and questions. It also reinforces the fear that if this project had been allowed to go on without taking environmental concerns into account, the process of planning and executing more road projects in the future, would have left more and more Uttaranchal forest areas susceptible to felling and encroachments.

Had the solution to this problem been sought with environmental concerns – and not "developmental" ones - being paramount, it might have been a good idea for the Central government to arbitrate between the UP & Uttaranchal governments, and enforce either some kind of a moratorium or waiver of this dual taxation, or maybe effect an increase in the number of kms which a vehicle is allowed to traverse in another state without inviting taxation – if its origin and destination is within its own state. Calculated on the basis of state's annual revenue, this financial setback may undeniably amount to a sizeable sum, but in the long run it would still be too little as compared to the massive environmental degradation we may suffer at the hands of faulty planning at this stage.

Although the highway construction has been stayed for the moment, it should not be forgotten that that its planning and execution was bad in law, otherwise it would never have invited the attention of the Supreme Court. The significance of the Supreme Court stay order lies in the fact that for the time being the road cannot be constructed even in the reserve forest land, as has been proposed by the state government. Initially, the Centre had approved the proposed highway under the Forest Conservation Act 1980, provided no part of the road went through the national park area.  However, the three judge bench comprising Justice A.S. Anand, Justice R.C Lahoti and Justice Brijesh Kumar clarified in their order that the stay would not hinder the Uttaranchal government as long as the road did not pass through the tiger reserve.

It is now up to the development agencies in the state to take advantage of the considered view of the Supreme Court ruling and reconsider this problem with a holistic approach in order to seek a solution that does not disregard environmental and wildlife conservation issues.