A key government panel on wildlife has approved more than 50 projects across India, including three in Madhya Pradesh, involving the diversion of wildlife habitats on the grounds that the people-centric infrastructure schemes will provide key services.
The standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife cleared the projects in its last meeting in January as part of a new approach. The board, which is under the environment ministry, however, deferred a decision on some big power and steel expansion proposals that could have implications for protected areas.
In Madhya Pradesh, the panel cleared the diversion of 16 hectares of forestland from Son Chiraiya Sanctuary for 10 roads that will connect villages. It also cleared a power transmission line between Gwalior and Jaipur through the same sanctuary, a habitat of the endangered Great Indian Bustard.
Another approved project was a third railway line to pass through Ratapani Tiger Reserve on the Bhopal-Itrasi line in Madhya Pradesh. Committee chairman, environment minister Prakash Javadekar, invoked “national priority” in approving major railway and highway projects passing through key wildlife areas.
One such project involved the diversion of forestland from Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary for improving a National Highway in Karnataka.
“Road connectivity in the northeast was crucial for development, but at the same time, this should not compromise the environmental sanctity of the sanctuary,” Javedekar said while allowing diversion of forestland from Borail Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam for a National Highway project.
The panel allowed an aerial ropeway between Ghangari and Hemkund Sahib in Uttarakhand to boost tourism. The diversion of forestland from Abubshehar Wildlife Sanctuary in Haryana was allowed for eight projects.
Two irrigation projects in and around Melghat Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra and an 800MW power plant near Kinnerasani sanctuary in Telangana were approved.
A 2,000MW thermal power plant of Neyveli Lignite Corporation Limited in Tamil Nadu, which was approved despite wildlife expert R Sukumar pointing out that the environment appraisal committee’s report did not deal with monitoring biological parameters, especially the impact on corals.