In the peak of the Covid-19 Pandemic, as the whole country is on a lockdown mode, there is something that has stopped: the opening up and clearing up of Protected Areas for various projects. A total of 31 proposals involving diversion of 185 acres of National Parks and Sanctuaries and about 3000 acres in the eco sensitive zone is to be considered by the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) headed by Prakash Javadekar, Union Minster for Environment, Forest and Climate Change. In the 57th Meeting to be held on the 7th of April, 2020 through video conference, these proposals will come up for consideration. As the past records show, most of the projects is likely be approved.
Diversion within Protected Areas
An analysis carried out by Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment, of the Agenda of the National Board for Wildlife shows that that the total area being considered by the standing committee is 75.07 hectares (185 acres) out of which 98% (73.73 hectares)is forest land and rest 2% (1.34 hectares) is non-forest land. In terms of project category, most of the proposed diversion is for Linear projects such as Roads, Bridges and Transmission Lines. Out of 75.07 hectares proposed for diversion within PAs, Linear projects account for 49.07 hectares (66%). This is followed by Irrigation projects which account for diversion of 18.23 hectares (24%) and lastly Defense which accounts for 10% of total proposed diversion within PAs.
Out of the 49.07 hectares being considered for Linear projects, Roads account for 33.13 hectares and thereby explain 67% of total diversion being proposed in PAs for Linear. Some the National Parks and Sanctuaries which are likely to lose its forest cover are:
• BhagwanMahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary, Goa: The proposal is for a expansion (4 lane) of existing NH-4A in Anmod – Mollem Section in the Goa-Karnataka Border. The project requires 32.085 hectares of forest land out of which 31.015 hectares lies within Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary.
Another, 11, 54 hectares is proposed for diversion for the Narendra (existing) – Narendra (new) 400 kV D/C quad transmission line at Xeldem, Goa (part of Goa-Tamnar Transmission Project) which will divert 11.54 hectares of forest land from Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary.
• Eturnagaram Wildlife Sanctuary, Telangana The major proposal within Irrigation was Construction of Barrage across river Godavari under P.V. Narasimha Rao KanthanapallySujalaSravanthi Project Phase-I, Package-I, within Eturnagaram Wildlife Sanctuary in Telangana. In addition to diversion within the sanctuary area, the irrigation project will also divert 9.68 hectares of forest land within the eco-sensitive zone of the sanctuary.
• Gangotri National Park, Uttarakhand : As far as Defence is concerned, the SC NBWL is considering three proposals (spread over 7.76 hectares) for diversion within Gangotri National Park for the purposes of construction of Operational Track and Helipad for the 9th Battalion, Bihar Regiment, Harsil Sector.
Diversion of 2933 acres in Eco Sensitive Zone and 10 Km of Protected Areas
In addition to Protected Areas, the Standing Committee of the NBWL is also considering diversion of 1187.46 hectares outside Protected Areas. The major proposal in this category is construction and commissioning of Lakhwar Multipurpose Project (300 MW) in Dehradun and TehriGarhwal districts of Uttarakhand. The project is located 3.10 km from the boundary of the Binog Wildlife Sanctuary and falls in the default ESZ of the sanctuary. The project will require 768.155 hectares of forest land and 105.422 hectares of private land. The Environmental Clearance granted to the projects was suspended last year by the National Green Tribunal. Despite this the project is being considered by the National Board
Diversion within Tiger Habitats:
For the purpose of this analysis, ‘tiger habitats’ includes tiger reserve as notified under the provisions of Wildlife (Protection) Act, and forest lands lying contiguous to notified tiger reserves. These forest lands may serve as important corridors for dispersal of tigers and other wildlife. Given this definition, two proposals (spread over 170.37 hectares) are being considered by the SC NBWL for diversion within tiger habitats.
• Dampa Tiger Reserve, Mizoram: These are for diversion of 1.94 hectares of forest land for widening and improvement of Khadechera – Demecherra – Zamuang – Kaanjmun – Tuiluikawa (KDZKT) road within Dampa Tiger Reserve in Mizoram;
• Kawal Tiger Reserve, Telengana: Diversion of 168.43 hectares of forest land for laying of third BG railway line along the existing track within the railway boundary between Makhudi and Rechni road railway stations. The proposed railway line will cut through the tiger corridor of Kawal Tiger Reserve which connects it with the Tadoba-Andheri Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra and Indravati Tiger Reserve in Chhattisgarh.
It needs to be pointed out that the impact due to the diversion should not be seen only in terms of area proposed to be diverted. As it is clear, bulk of the proposals are for liner projects – transmission lines, irrigation canals and highways and roads. By bifurcating habitats and increasing incidences of road kills and electrocution, linear projects cause far damage disproportionate to the area diverted. Thus the acres or hectares diverted does not give the true picture of the real ecological impact of the projects.
[MridhuTandon is an analyst with Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment, New Delhi] and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org