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Biodiversity & Environment

Impact of Roads on Wildlife

  • 06 Aug 2018
  • 5 min read

The Centre has asked the state of Karnataka to consent to allowing night traffic on the highway passing through Bandipur Tiger Reserve.

Background

  • After reports of frequent roadkills in Bandipur, the administration in June 2009 restricted vehicular traffic between 9 pm and 6 am on two national highways passing through the reserve.
    • Protests by Kerala, however, led to the order being withdrawn.
    • After a PIL was filed, Karnataka High Court restored the ban on night traffic in July 2009.
  • After the Bandipur matter went to the Supreme Court, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) in a report, in March 2018, recommended maintaining status quo.
  • However, before the submission of its report, the Road Transport Ministry asked Karnataka to consent to a proposal to open the road 24×7 with certain mitigation measures like:
    • An elevated road of over four 1-km stretches to provide wildlife passageways below, and
    • Fencing the entire highway passing through the reserve with 8-foot-high steel wire barriers.
  • The argument for opening up the restricted road is that the alternative road is 30 km longer, and apparently passes through hilly terrain — increasing travel time, fuel consumption, and pollution.
  • Also, it is argued, traffic through a tiger reserve endangers wildlife even during the day, so fencing and passageways are a better idea.

Impact

  • The question is whether a 30-km detour to safeguard one of India’s most wildlife-rich forests is an unaffordable economic burden or a minor concession necessary in the national interest.
  • The impact of road developments on biodiversity has become one of the central environmental issues when planning for road infrastructure.
  • Wild animals are vulnerable to vehicular traffic passing through forests, especially at night when, blinded by bright headlights, even swift species like cats freeze.
  • Over time, as animals learn to avoid roads, busy multilane highways become barriers that hinder wildlife movement, fragment populations, and restrict gene flow.
  • By blocking access to potential habitats, roads, railway lines and irrigation canals act as a major contributor to habitat loss.

India’s Policy

  • In September 2013, the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), the apex advisory body to the central government on all wildlife-related matters, said no to new roads through protected forests.
    • However, it was open to the widening of existing roads with adequate mitigation measures irrespective of the cost, only if alternative alignments were not available.
    • The government accepted this as policy in December 2014.
  • In February 2018, the NBWL made it mandatory for every road/rail project proposal to include a wildlife passage plan as per guidelines framed by Wildlife Institute of India, an autonomous wildlife research body under the Environment Ministry.
    • However, features like underpasses are unlikely to suffice in dense wildlife-rich forests where too many animals compete for space.

National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA)

  • NTCA is a statutory body under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change constituted under enabling provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 for strengthening tiger conservation.

National Board for Wildlife (NBWL)

  • National Board for Wildlife is a statutory Board constituted officially in 2003 under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972. 
  • The NBWL is chaired by the Hon’ble Prime Minister and is responsible for promotion of conservation and development of wildlife and forests. 
  • The board is ‘advisory’ in nature and can only advise the Government on policy making for conservation of wildlife.
  • It is an important body because it serves as an apex body for the review of all wildlife-related matters and for the approval of projects in and around national parks and sanctuaries

Bandipur Tiger Reserve

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