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,"
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
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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