A shocking news grasped the wildlife conservationists of India when the Indian Government cleared a NHAI (National Highway Authority of India) project to expand the NH7 (National Highway 7) running through the Kanha-Pench tiger corridor, one of the most significant wildlife corridors in India.
By definition, wildlife corridors are routes which connect fragmented wildlife habitats together. Movement of species across these corridors is essential for maintaining healthy and sustainable populations of species, and introducing genetic variability. Species move across these corridors in search of new territories, mating and for adapting to seasonal variations of food and water resources.
The Kanha-Pench tiger corridor connects the small tiger populations in the Pench Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra with the larger populations in the Kanha Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh. The safe movement of tigers across this corridor is absolutely necessary to maintain a healthy gene pool and sustainable population of tigers.
On 18th August, the NBWL (National Board of Wildlife), headed by our Environment Minister, Prakash Javadekar, gave the green signal to the reportedly ‘anti-green’ project of a four lane widening of the NH7, tearing apart hopes of revival and habitat of the wildlife of this region.
After a session of tug-of-war between proponents and opponents of the project, the Environment Ministry finally cleared the project after promising the implementation of mitigation measures to control loss of wildlife. Opposition from WII (Wildlife Institute of India), NGT (National Green Tribunal) along with signature campaigns and protests by wildlife lovers across the country were unable to withstand the ‘vote-bank’ pressures of developing India.
However, there is one hopeful side to this project- the mitigation measures promised in this project is based on a concept that is completely new in India. In many countries like Canada, USA and Sweden, wildlife road deaths are prevented by construction of ‘wildlife crossings’. The wildlife crossings are overpasses or underpasses that are constructed at critical points along a highway or a road that allows safe and free movement of wildlife from its habitat on one side of the road or highway to the other. The rest of the boundaries of wildlife habitat are fenced to avoid wildlife road kills. The crossings have natural vegetation of wild habitats and wildlife uses these routes as wildlife corridors.
For example, the Banff National Park of Canada has 44 wildlife crossing structures (38 underpasses and 6 overpasses) and 82 km of highway fencing on the Trans Canada Highway passing through the National Park. With years of rigorous monitoring and scientific research, the Banff National Park has been able to acclaim a massive success in saving wildlife corridors and curbing wildlife road kills with the help of wildlife crossing structures and fencing on the Trans Canada Highway.
A plan similar to the ‘wildlife crossing’ constructions on the Trans Canadian Highway, has been devised to solve the issue of the NH7 widening in the Kanha-Pench corridor. For the first time in India, 4 major and 14 minor eco-ducts and 3 underpasses will be constructed on the NH7 to allow safe passage of wildlife across the highway.
Now that the Government has given its clearance to the project, only future holds answer to the following questions:
The fate of our wildlife will depend on answers to these questions. Only time and intentions will tell whether India’s ambition will exterminate her wildlife or India will accommodate her wild species into her developmental scenario.