Bird watchers and conservationists can heave a sigh of relief as the Centre has shot down a road-widening proposal that would have caused death of the Karnala Bird Sanctuary, some 60 km South-west of Mumbai.

Standing Committee of National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) of the environment ministry in a recent meeting rejected the state government’s plan for diverting a chunk of land from the sanctuary for widening of Mumbai-Goa highway.

Noting that alternate route for the road-widening purpose was available the Board members strongly favoured the need to save the tiny oasis spread over 12 sq km which is habitat to over 150 resident bird species and about 37 types of avian migrants.

A picnickers favourite hotspot and bird gazers delight one can sight rare birds including spotted heart wood peckers and ashy minimet racket tailed drongo, paradise fly catcher, magpie robin, red vented bulbul, myna and owl.

However, it is already under pressure with illegal grazing and encroachments.

A leading conservationist and Board member Asad Rehmani, strongly opposing the proposal, said,” the site is a good bird habitat. In the name of development we need not ignore our last surviving protected areas, at least when we do have alternate options available avoiding the sanctuary areas.”

The importance of this location can be gauged from the fact that such a large number of species is found in such a small area, the director of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) added.

The Board members also took note that the Chief Wildlife Warden had not recommended the proposal while the State Board for Wildlife has recommended it ignoring that it would have severe impact on the flora and fauna there.

Considering the small size of the Sanctuary and its biodiversity and availability of three alternative routes, it was decided unanimously to reject the proposal and to advise the project proponent to take alternative alignment, Rehmani told PTI.

According to a research done by BNHS in association with Birdlife International and the Royal Society for Protection of Birds, India has 465 important bird areas, of which 198 are outside protected areas.

India alone has eight critically endangered, 10 endangered, 57 vulnerable and 52 threatened species.