U'khand govt all for Garhwal-Kumaon highway through Corbett. It's a bad idea
In his first press conference after being sworn in as Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, Trivendra Singh Rawat said the state government would allow the construction of the Kandi Road, which passes through the core area of the Corbett Tiger Reserve in the state.
It was one of the poll promises of the BJP during its campaign for the state Assembly elections, and Rawat lost no time in ensuring that this promise soon turns into reality.
However, wildlife experts and conservationists are concerned about the extensive ecological damage caused by such an exercise.
What is the Kandi Road?
The Kandi Road had been operational till 2001, and was closed down by forest authorities citing ecological damages. The final nail in the coffin was the poaching of eight elephants in the same year, which forced the forest department to stop construction of the road.
The Rawat government seems to be giving in to the demands of the locals who, for long, had been seeking reopening of the road to reduce the travel time between the Garhwal and Kumaon regions of Uttarakhand. Reopening of the road for vehicles would shorten the distance between Kotdwar in Garhwal and Ramnagar in Kumaon from 166 km to 88 km. Even the travel time would be cut down by two hours.
Moreover, the locals have for long been complaining that they have to enter Uttar Pradesh to reach Garwhal from Kumaon and vice versa, and opening of the Kandi Road would save them from the taxes imposed by the UP government on border areas.
Populist measure over environment
Notwithstanding the ecological damage caused by turning the road into a highway, the state government seems to have chosen a populist measure over the massive habitat loss in Corbett.
Despite the assurances given by the government, any construction on this road is far more complicated than being made out by the Chief Minister, and state forests minister Harak Singh Rawat.
Earlier, the Supreme Court had put a stay on the construction of the road if it would lead to the felling of trees. At that time, the apex court suggested that instead of constructing the road through the national park, alternate areas with human population could be used for building such a highway.
Govt unaware of SC order?
Meanwhile, Dinesh Pandey of the Wildlife Trust of India claims that thousands of trees would need to be cut if this road was turned into a highway. “Not only that, thousands of wild animals would die in road accidents, but the government doesn't seem to be concerned with that,” he says.
According to him, the road passes through a reserve forest, a wildlife sanctuary, and eventually, the core area of the tiger reserve. And it is the passing of the highway through the core area that concerns Pandey the most.
A senior forest official, earlier posted with the National Tiger Conservation Authority, says it's apparent that the state government is unaware of the Supreme Court order.
Social activist Anoop Nautiyal, who is based in Dehradun, and opposes any such construction, claimed that the government seems to be pretty serious about turning it into a highway, and could approach the Supreme Court again to find a solution.
“The BJP government at the Centre should certainly push the case, which could be advantageous for the state government,” he says.
However, he claims that the judicial activism, particularly in cases related to environment, is at its peak at present, and it would not be a cakewalk for the state government.
Pandey believes that even if the government remained serious about the construction, it would take more than six months to get all the approvals. “If they get all the approvals, we will approach the Central Empowered Committee and National Green Tribunal. Though CEC can only make recommendations, the NGT has more powers, and can hopefully stop this process, which will literally destroy Corbett,” he says.
Petition to stop construction
A petition has also been filed in this regard by Ashish Garg, who has requested the state government and the Union Ministry of Road Transport Highways & Shipping to stop the construction of the Kandi Road.
In his petition, Garg has requested that the road be constructed through Amangarh, Barahpur and Suawala in UP, which will reduce the traveling time from Haridwar to Ramnagar by three hours.
“Since there is a BJP government in Uttarakhand, in UP and at the Centre, it would be easy to draw a consensus. This route is more feasible than Kandi Road, which passes through the core of the tiger habitat in Corbett. This way, conservation can be balanced, in this case by creating a model while meeting the ecologically needs,” reads the petition.
Flyovers a good option?
Meanwhile, Harak Singh Rawat, recently claimed that the government was trying to find a solution to ensure safety of wildlife while keeping in mind the welfare of the people. Rawat also mentioned that flyovers would be built in areas that pass through national parks.
Reacting to this, Pandey says: “It is an option that will cost a lot more than what the government is anticipating. If Delhi Metro can go underground and move on elevated rail tracks, why can't such things be done here? We are all for an elevated expressway on crucial forest patches, because conservation means nothing if it doesn't involve the well-being of local communities.”
Nautiyal suggests that the government should conduct a detailed a environmental impact assessment, and ensure that far less ecological damage is done. He says alternate routes should be explored to ensure minimum damage to the habitat.