Expansion of roads for better travel facilities has been a thing going on for a while now. However, the Environment Ministry has shown thumbs down and rejected a National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) proposal. As per this proposal there was to be a road expansion connecting Bhopal and Nagpur but the ministry favoured the tigers this time as the highway would have cut through a proposed tiger reserve in Madhya Pradesh.
The Standing Committee of National Board of wildlife along with Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan accepted a report which was presented by a panel of experts. The report says that four laning the NH-69 within the Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary is not permissible owing to the vulnerable threat that the tigers and other wild animals would face. The major threat would be death of animals due to road accidents, MoEF sources quoted. The decision came amidst disagreements between the two groups over highway projects through the forest areas.
The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) had initially given the report prepared by NBWL Standing Committee Member Prerna Singh Bindra and NTCA official Rajeev Sharma a nod. A denotification of 58.5 hectares of forest land in Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary was sought by the NHAI. This was mainly to upgrade the two lane NH-69 to four lanes to ensure better facilities for night time traffic and regulate the traffic between Bhopal and Nagpur at a higher and a faster pace. The report was rejected mainly because the impact of this highway would end up in increased road kill of wild animals.
Jungle Trampled by Roadways
In the past it has been observed that because of the highway, the forests on the sides of the roads have seen a great amount of deforestation and their usage by wild animals has also diminished. Any expansion therefore would decrease the presence of flora and fauna further.
An expanded highway through the forest area will also allow easy access into the wilderness which is not recommended.
NH -69 passes through 44.6km of the forest area which includes the 12.44km stretch through the Ratapani Sanctuary which 35 km from Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh capital and one of highly forested states of the country. The sanctuary has been a proposed Tiger reserve as approved by the NTCA and the last census shows evidence that the sanctuary houses 16 tigers in its premises.
Prerna Singh Bindra and the team have recommended notifying the Ratapani Tiger Reserve to promote a more focused conservation and management of the wildlife in the region.
Fortunately, with the rejection of the highway expansion proposal, the wildlife of the area have for the time being excaped being runover by fast moving vehicles in their forest homes. It might be better to repair the present highway and rather than expansion, plan roadways that ease connectivity between cities but also do not bring more untimely deaths for wildlife.
About Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary
Ratapani is located in the Vindhaya range of Madhya Pradesh, spreading over two revenue districts – Raisen and Sehore. The tract is rich in wildlife and other tourist attractions. Ratapani is the most important permanent water source for wild animals.
Water availability is a major limiting factor for wildlife during the harsh summer months. The fauna of Ratapani include tiger, panther, Wild dog, hyena, jackal, Chital, Sambar, Nilgai, Sloth bear and Wild pigs. A large number of reptiles are found along with 150 species of birds.
It is about 35 km from Bhopal.
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