Infra projects at Sanctuaries on hold, state to study impact

Sanjay Gandhi National Park

Clearances for several infrastructure projects that pass through the eco-sensitive zones, the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) and the Tungareshwar Wild Life Sanctuary (TWLS) — including the proposed Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train line — have been put on hold till an expert panel studies their impact on the wildlife habitat, the Maharashtra State Board of Wildlife, headed by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, said on Wednesday.

Fadnavis set up a committee under additional chief secretary, Praveen Pardeshi, to study the impact of development projects passing through the two sanctuaries and set down ways to mitigate them.

Among the key projects passing through the two green lungs are the 1.08 lakh crore INR Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train, the 126-km Virar-Alibaug multimodal corridor, the Railways’ dedicated freight corridor, a natural gas pipeline and the Goregaon-Mulund tunnel. A petroleum products pipeline and bridge on Sion-Panvel highway have also been proposed near the Thane creek flamingo sanctuary.

The wildlife board took the decision when proposals were tabled to divert land in these habitats for the projects. The bullet train project alone requires 115.5 hectares of forest area — roughly the size of 78 Wankhede stadiums. This includes 1.48 hectares from the notified eco-sensitive zones, within a 10-km area of the SGNP and TWLS.

“The committee will study how much funds will be required to put in place mitigation measures and how to fix responsibility on the agencies involved,” an official from the forest department said. The official said the committee will have wildlife experts and representatives from an NGO approved by the Supreme Court, and will coordinate with all state and Central agencies, including the Public Works Department, municipal corporations, forest department and the National High Speed Rail Corporation. On the committee are Deepak Apte, director, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Anish Andheria from the Wildlife Conservation Trust, and member Kishore Rithe.

“Now all proposals related to the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Railway Project (Bullet train) will be clubbed with others passing through the sanctuaries and will be studied by the committee. None of the proposals have been approved yet. The focus will be on elevating the roads, studying possible impact on wildlife and mitigation measures for each of them,” said Andheria. “We will make sure that the forest areas around the park are not short changed, and both the CM and the forest minister agreed.”

“The proposals for clearance of land acquisition for the bullet train and other projects will be given a go-ahead only after this committee clears the plans,” said forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar.

Wildlife Conservation Trust has carried out a camera-trapping exercise for wildlife corridors around the Tadoba reserve in Chandrapur district, where seven road projects from the state public works department and the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) have been proposed. “We showed the members a presentation of intersections and criss-crosses, which can be potentially dangerous for movement of wildlife, and suggested location-wise mitigation measures for areas prone to accidents,” said Andheria.

Besides this, the government has also decided to seek permission from NTCA to keep six tiger reserves in Maharashtra open for tourism during the monsoon, on the lines of permissions given to the Kaziranga sanctuary in Assam. According to an official, the board also discussed training and the use of elephants to monitor tigers in these reserves.

The policy will fix the role of various stakeholders including government officials, joint forest management committee and the measure to be taken to reduce the conflict and for natural habitat for the wild animals.

Source: Hindustan Times

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