Uttarakhand govt starts work to construct Laldhang-Chillarkhal motor road

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Months after the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) gave its nod for building the Laldhang-Chillarkhal road through the buffer zone Rajaji Tiger Reserve, Uttarakhand government has now started work to construct the motor road.

Harak Singh Rawat, state forest minister, met officials last week for the revision of Laldhang-Chilarkhal motor road.

“For the benefit of the people of the state, the work of strengthening this road is very important. It is an important link route connecting Kotdwar,” said the minister. In this regard, he instructed the officials to submit practical proposals and action plans for the construction of Lal Dhang-Chilarkhal motor road.

He further said that the length and the width of the bridge to be made on the road should be re-evaluated.

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In January, after going through the recommendations of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) of building underpasses for animals and forest land transfer, the NBWL had approved the proposed road.

The Standing Committee of the NBWL recommended the proposal for building the road through the buffer zone of Rajaji Tiger Reserve, an ecologically sensitive area in terms of movement of wildlife, with certain conditions.

The conditions were, “Permission for starting the work on the project shall be granted by the state government only when road design is modified as per animal passage plan prepared by project proponent in consultation with state chief wildlife warden on the basis of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) guidelines named Eco-friendly Measures to Mitigate Impacts on Linear Infrastructures on Wildlife.”

The NTCA had recommended that as per the guidelines set by the WII, “construction of an elevated road (underpass for animals) with substantial clearance for elephants (8m above ground to provide safe passage) needs to be undertaken for the central stretch of 4.7 kilometres from Chamaraia bend to Siggadi sot.”

The recommendations further mentioned that “While planning the elevated road, it should be ensured that at least 100 metres of passageways per kilometre is provided. However, being an elephant dense area, it is suggested to provide one and a half time more permeability which entails a permeable space of 705 metres.”

The chief wildlife warden of Uttarakhand had then been asked to decide upon the exact location of the 705-metre structure in consultation with field unit and the WII, which can be broken down into smaller structures “with a span of not less than 50 metres at any given location.”

Last year in July, the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court, after inspecting the Laldhang-Chillarkhal road, had observed that the road construction work violates the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1972.

The committee had also found that the state forest department requires clearance under section 38 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 to go ahead with the project.

The Supreme Court in June 2019 had put a stay order on all construction work underway on Laldhang-Chillarkhal road passing through what the court termed as an ‘ecologically sensitive’ area.

The apex court made the judgment while hearing an application filed with the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) by Delhi-based wildlife activist Rohit Choudhury, ‘to stop construction of road, bridges and culverts’ on the said road.

As an interim measure, PV Jayakrishnan, chairman of the CEC in his report stated, “that the construction work on the Laldhang-Chillarkhal road in the Rajaji Tiger Reserve may please be stopped forthwith as it would adversely impact the habitat and wildlife of the ecologically sensitive area.”

After the inspection, the CEC in its report had recommended the apex court to direct the state to “withdraw the orders dated 7.12.2018 and 28.12.2018 issued without authority for transfer of forest land for non-forestry use to the State Public Works Department.”

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