In Arunachal Pradesh, plan to build road through tiger reserve under lens
The Union environment ministry has sought the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA)’s response to a proposed highway in Arunachal Pradesh that is likely to cut through a part of the Pakke Tiger Reserve in East Kameng district, an official said amid concerns about the risks the project may pose to the wildlife.
“We have received a road project proposal from the Arunachal Pradesh government, which involves the Pakke Tiger Reserve. It is, however, being referred to the NTCA for comments,” said the official on condition of anonymity.
The issue came to light after environmental activist, Jorjo Tana Tara, received some documents on the proposed East-West Industrial Corridor under the Right to Information Act from the reserve’s divisional forest officer.
The documents refer to three options for connecting Seijosa with Bahlukpong as part of the project. They suggest the shortest route of about 48 km that passes through the reserve via an elevated corridor. The documents cite the merits of an elevated corridor and say they include minimum conflict between the road users and the wildlife, free movement of animals, 24-hour traffic movement and enhancement of tourism etc.
Extra high fencing shall be provided along the road other than an underpass or overpass portion to restrict trespassing and unauthorised entry into the core zone, according to the documents that HT has accessed. But the details of the alignment and how much of the reserve will be affected are unavailable in the documents.
AK Nayak, an NTCA member secretary, said the project involving Pakke is a very recent one and the Wildlife Institute of India’s Tiger Cell is assessing it. “Usually in such cases, where a tiger reserve is involved, a committee is constituted of experts from the cell, regional office of the environment ministry, NTCA etc who visit the site and make an assessment .”
Tara said the project will hurt local people on various counts. “The main purpose of the highway is to transport heavy machinery for hydropower projects. Arunachal Pradesh falls under a very high seismic hazard zone and local people downstream will lose everything if there is a disaster. The project will risk the tiger population in Pakke and bordering Nameri.”
Tara said Asiatic black bears have also been rehabilitated in Pakke and they will also be exposed to disturbance. “Seijosa is perhaps the only place in the Northeast, which is a nesting area for four species of hornbills. The biggest threat to these hornbills is illegal logging. Such a highway will only make way for more logging and access.”
The documents suggest the corridor will be 699.50 km long. “The road will also serve as a vital link for the carriage of heavy machinery for hydropower projects in the state for which various MOUs have been signed with various power developers tapping the highest hydropower potential in India.” Health care, educational and agricultural hubs have also been proposed to be set up along the highway.
Pakke Tiger Reserve’s divisional forest officer, Tana Tapi, said the corridor’s detailed project report (DPR) was drafted based on satellite imagery and not on ground measurements. “How can they make DPR based on satellite imagery? I have raised objections to the project. It is cutting through the core area,’’ said Tapi. “They will have to do a ground survey which will then be considered by the State Wildlife Board.”
Tapi said he will give his comments to the board also. “Then the matter goes to the National Board for Wildlife. There are four species of Hornbills here, including the rufous-necked hornbill. We also have tigers and lots of elephants,” said Tapi.
Aparajita Datta, a scientist with the Nature Conservation Foundation who has worked extensively in Arunachal Pradesh, said Pakke is a haven for hornbills and only one of two protected areas with high hornbill densities. “Many active nest trees are in fact found along the stretch where the road is being proposed,” said Datta.