• MoEF comes out with norms for infra projects in forests

    Recognizing the threats of linear infrastructure project such as roads and railway lines to wildlife, the union environment, forest and climate change ministry (MoEF&CC) has come out with detailed policy guidelines on putting inadequate safeguards while clearing these projects to facilitate wildlife movement and prevent their deaths.

    The guidelines come in the wake of severe criticism of the MoEF&CC for clearing infrastructure projects through wildlife habitats without due safeguards and the ministry is also hoping that standard wildlife safeguards for such projects will ensure speedy clearances.

    Infact, just a month ago it cleared a road widening project through the Kanha-Achanakmar tiger corridor in Chhattisgarh despite calls from National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and Wildlife Institute of India (WII) to reject it. Each year, several endangered wildlife species such as tigers, leopards, elephants and a range of other wildlife get killed as they try to cross highways and railway tracks that bisect wildlife habitats. Besides roads and railway, power transmission lines and canals also kill wildlife as they get electrocuted or drown.

    The draft policy guideline, ‘eco-friendly measures to mitigate impacts of linear infrastructure on wildlife’ has been prepared by the WII and the ministry has now sought public suggestions and objections on it.

    For the first time, standard recommendations and engineering solutions have been issued through the report, applicable to specific wildlife and habitats. For instance, it has said that for projects that pass through tiger landscapes, both underpasses and overpasses are potential engineering solutions for reducing the impact of these projects. “A minimum span of 30m with a height of 5m and width of 5-8m would work for most species in tiger landscapes,” the report has said.

    In the case of elephants, the report has recommended that elevating a road project on pillars is the best solution. If it is an underpass, it should have a height of at least 8m and width of 12m for smooth movement of the biggest land animal, the report added. Monkeys and squirrels can use canopy bridges that are built on railway tracks while pipe culverts are ideal for smaller mammals, reptiles and amphibians, the WII report said.

    The guidelines also highlight that infrastructure projects are a barrier for wildlife that restrict and prevent their movement. They disturb wildlife habitats and affect natural processes, which in turn may have long-term implications for wildlife such as genetic drift.

    According to the ministry report, National Highway-7 stretch between Maharashtra and Nagpur, that passes through Kanha-Pench wildlife corridor sees an average traffic volume of 452 vehicles/hour, comprising of all kinds of vehicles. As per the report, a death zone, where 375-600 cars pass per hour, only about 25% of the animals will be able to cross.

    In sections of the highway where more than 600 cars pass per hour, animals are largely repelled from crossing, preventing them from moving to newer habitats.

    The report has recommended that on sharp bends and high-speed networks where applying brakes is not possible, railway tracks should be be barricaded while giving access to elephants at other locations.

    Dna had reported earlier this month that more than 400 railway trains (passenger and goods) pass through the country’s sensitive wildlife habitats. Austin Blythe Jersey

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