by Meera Bhardwaj
The recent incident of a tiger jumping over a crash barrier on NH-7 in the tiger corridor between Kanha and Pench in India has raised many uncomfortable questions on wildlife protection. Now how was the expansion of the road to a four lane allowed without proper and adequate mitigation measures at identified tiger paths in one of the most significant tiger corridors?
The shocking incident of the tiger crossing was captured by a commuter while traversing the region which has a healthy population of tigers. In the video, one can see an adult tiger hiding on one side of the NH-7 and waiting desperately for an opportunity to cross the road. Finally, it crosses and then does a ‘high jump’ to cross the barrier to move towards the other side of the forest. What is clearly visible is: there are no proper exclusive paths for wildlife movement on this road or for that matter even speed controllers for the animals to move safely.
The Pench Tiger Reserve having a population of 53 tigers straddles the two states of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. According to tiger experts, this area is one of the most prime and critical tiger habitats remaining in central India. In 2015, it was the National Board of Wildlife under the chairmanship of Prakash Javadekar which gave permission for four laning of a 40 KM stretch of NH-7 passing through the Kanha-Pench tiger corridor.
While clearing the project, the Union Minister promised strong mitigation measures for wildlife protection. Later, four laning was done between Seoni-MP-Maharashtra border that passes through this tiger reserve and the Kanha National park. Meanwhile, as the cost escalated, the elevated sections of the road (meant for crossings at identified tiger paths) was reduced and so the mitigation measures went for a toss.
The two KM underpass was reduced to a mere 750 meters. In March, a camera trap revealed a tiger using the underpass while Wildlife Institute of India confirmed that other animals too were using the underpass. However, in February, a tiger died in a road kill here highlighting the inadequacy of measures. Further, the crash barriers themselves were proving to be barriers for movement of wildlife in the heavily forested regions of Pench.
Wildlife experts and officials have in fact, questioned the effectiveness and efficacy of the prevailing mitigation measures. An underpass has been built on this road but this has not benefited wildlife which is forced to criss cross traffic and jump crash barriers. This is one of the most significant tiger corridors in India and is essential for maintaining healthy and sustainable tiger populations as also introducing genetic variability, a wildlife biologist said.
A conservationist (not willing to be identified) says, “This government claims they had built world class mitigation measures on the Kanha-Pench corridor. But the ground reality is : with cost escalations on this long stretch, they reduced the underpass to a mere two kilometers. Now who will take responsibility for this?
Tejas, wildlife activist adds this is the result of ill planned development. “We need development but where and how is the question. We cannot have everything everywhere.” It’s an illogical thing to do, opines urban conservationist Vijay Nishanth. The NHAI should have adhered to proper scientific studies before building four lanes in a significant tiger corridor while forest officials have failed to do their duty. If such incidents are happening, action should be initiated by forest officials to rectify as they are voice of wildlife.”