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SOS Rhino : In the News : E-W Corridor project — World Wildlife Fund locks horns with NHAI

E-W Corridor project — World Wildlife Fund locks horns with NHAI


Indrani Dutta

The State forest department has also thrown its weight behind the WWF saying that they apprehend damage to ecology and environment by vehicles.

KOLKATA, July 16-- BATTLE lines are being drawn between the National Highways Authority of India Ltd (NHAI) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) over the widening of a stretch of road under the East-West Corridor project of the NHAI, with the WWF planning a public interest litigation to block any move to lay roads through forests and elephant corridors.

Sources said that the hackles of the WWF-India have been raised over a 50 km stretch which involves widening an existing stretch in North Bengal from a two-lane to a six-lane highway as part of the E-W corridor project of the NHAI which passes through at least four wildlife sanctuaries in the Himalayan foothills besides the Buxa Tiger Reserve.

"This is an established elephant corridor and the animals will now be endangered trying to negotiate high speed traffic," a source said.

Confirming the development, Lt Colonel (retd) S.R. Banerjee, State Director, WWF for Nature - India, told Business Line that the WWF's Centre for Environmental Law was now checking out all the data and the facts even as they ready a legal strategy which would be exercised as a last resort.

"Things will also depend on the outcome of the Environmental Impact Assessment Study of the project - but we will not allow wildlife to be endangered at any costs," he said.

The State forest department has also thrown its weight behind the WWF saying that they apprehend damage to ecology and environment by vehicles, which will now zip through the widened road.

At present there is a 30-feet road passing through the 50 km route which has become the bone of contention as it traverses some of the prime forests in West Bengal including the Jaldapara WildLife sanctuary which is famous for its rhino population, the Gorumama sanctuary and the Mahananda WildLife sanctuary. According to the West Bengal Conservator of Forests (Wild Life) North Circle, large forest areas may be cut down and lost permanently since the existing road might have to be widened more than three times to create space for the divider and pedestrian sidewalk.

"It means an area of about 2,000 hectares of prime forest may be lost — from Jaldapara alone 350 hectares may be lost,'' they said, adding that authorities should enforce an EIA study as well as explore alternative existing routes which would not jeopardise the green belt or endanger animals.

Citing an instance, the conservator said that even now occasionally elephants are killed while crossing the roads from the one forest stretch to another.

"With traffic speed gathering momentum after the completion of the roadway, this might become an everyday phenomenon,'' they fear.

The East-West corridor along with the north-south corridor marks the second phase of the National Highways Development project. The E-W corridor provides connectivity between Silchar and Saurashtra and the completion date of this phase has been advanced from December 2009 to 2007 according to available data.
However, even within the State Government, opinion on this project is divided. The State Urban Development Department favours this project, which it feels will provide a fillip to the local economy.

The district administration as well as the State Forest Minister has opposed the project saying that besides endangering wildlife, such deforestation will damage `jhoras' (small waterfalls) and pave the way for further landslides.

According to a resistance group, which has been formed in the North Bengal town of Jalpaiguri to spearhead the local people's opposition to the project, it is possible to provide the connectivity without ruining forests and tea gardens.
The alternate route would be through agricultural land and shorter by 37 km entailing lesser costs they claim. There is one catch though and perhaps a major one. It involves acquisition of private land.

However, the NHAI has already stated that it would not be possible to change the already finalised alignment saying that this was required for providing connectivity between the SAARC countries as also for strategic defence reasons. A retired defence personnel debunks this argument

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