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National Wildlife Board issues final nod for Mumbai-Nagpur highway amid lockdown

By Badri Chatterjee, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON APR 08, 2020 06:34 PM IST

The National Board of Wildlife (NBWL), under the Union environment ministry, issued the final clearance for the 55,335-crore Mumbai-Nagpur super communication highway during a meeting held on Tuesday via video-conferencing amid the ongoing nationwide lockdown.

Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar who chaired the meeting issued approvals for projects from 11 different states. He tweeted, “The proposal from the Maharashtra government for an amendment to the construction of Nagpur-Mumbai super highway was approved, which shall boost the overall growth in the region.”

The 701-km Hindu Hruday Samrat Balasaheb Thackeray Maharashtra Samruddhi Mahamarg connecting Mumbai and Nagpur covering 10 districts, 26 talukas and 392 villages, will reduce the existing travel time of 15 hours to eight hours. The Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC) had divided the entire highway into major packages or stretches for which environment clearances had been sought separately.

Maharashtra chief wildlife warden Nitin Kakodkar said, “As far as wildlife clearances are concerned, the project now has all permissions in place. The Wildlife Institute of India (WII) had proposed mitigation measures such as underpasses, overpasses etc. for major wildlife zones. They are being examined by a committee whether these measures would be sufficient or otherwise. Once that is complete, there are no other hurdles from the wildlife point of view.”

The project will require felling of over one lakh trees and passes through the 10-km eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) of Katepurna and Karanja Sohal Blackbuck wildlife sanctuaries towards one end of the state while cutting through the ESZ of Tansa lake sanctuary closer to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region. The total project requires 475 hectares of forest land. Kakodkar explained that it was erroneously mentioned in the state board of wildlife minutes of the meeting and proposal from February 2018 that 2% of the total project cost had to be paid up by MSRDC for mitigation measures under package 5 passing through Tansa’s ESZ. “Whereas 2% of the project cost for only this particular package area had to be paid not the total project cost. MSRDC brought this to the notice of the state, and an amended proposal was sent to NBWL, which received clearance on Tuesday,” said Kakodkar.

Environmentalists questioned the Centre’s intention of issuing clearances during the Covid-19 lockdown period. “This time is being used to facilitate environment destruction. The NBWL is not part of essential services to clear projects. They also realised their decisions cannot be challenged at the moment in courts or otherwise,” said Stalin D, director, Vanashakti.

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