Wildlife panel recommends clearance of tiger corridor area for canal
New Delhi: In a decision that is bound to upset wildlife conservationists, the apex wildlife panel of the environment ministry has recommended clearance of over 600 hectares of forest area falling in a critical tiger corridor area linking three important tiger reserves for an irrigation canal.
The green nod is significant as it is the latest in a line of forest clearance approvals for projects in prime tiger habitats like the Panna tiger reserve for the Ken-Betwa river interlinking project and the Palamu tiger reserve for the North Koel project.
The latest project, ‘Dr B.R. Ambedkar Pranahita Irrigation Canal’ involves diversion of over 600 hectare forest area in the tiger corridor linking Kawal Tiger Reserve in Telangana with the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra and the Indravathi Tiger Reserve in Chhattisgarh.
It was discussed in a 4 September meeting of the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) headed by the environment minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan.
In their last meeting, the wildlife panel had directed that officials from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), an autonomous institution under the ministry, to visit the project site and submit a detailed report.
The site inspection report was considered in the 4 September meeting whose minutes were reviewed by Mint. The report by WII recommended a total of nine eco-bridges across the canal for facilitating animal passage compared to the earlier suggestion of 18 such bridges by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, which is India’s top body for conservation and protection of tigers.
WII also gave detailed suggestions regarding the design of eco-bridges. The WII report said that the landscape design of the eco-bridges should mimic adjacent habitats that the structure intends to connect.
“Dense shrubs should be planted on edges of bridges to provide cover and refuge for small- and medium-sized wildlife. The central sections of the crossings should be left open with low herbaceous vegetation. Piles of shrubs, large woody debris or rocks could be placed in stepping-stone fashion to provide refuge for small fauna. Forest department must monitor these eco-bridges with remotely activated camera traps to understand animal movements and detect and minimize illegal human activities, if any,” the report said.
The WII report also advocated 6-8 metre wide ramps at an interval of every 500 metres on both the sides along the stretches of the canal passing through the forest lands to enable even smaller animals to have access to canal water for drinking purpose.
The WII also noted that the tiger corridor “may become almost non-functional during the construction phase owing to high anthropogenic disturbances” and this may “halt tiger movement in the area and might escalate conflict with local human communities”.
“The User Agency must, therefore, start construction of canal within forest areas only during the last phase of the project,” WII recommended.
According to a 2014 estimation, India’s tiger population was 2,226, spread across 50 tiger reserves, compared to 1,706 in 2010 and 1,411 in 2006.