A faster ride between Belagavi and Panaji will now come at the cost of nearly 38,000 trees.
A recent meeting of the Regional Empowered Committee, Southern Zone of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, has accorded Stage I in-principle permission for the widening project that is expected to improve connectivity between the northern hinterlands of the State and the port at Panaji.
The National Highways Authority of India had sought permission to divert nearly 210 acres of forest land for the four-laning project.
The estimated number of trees to be cut is 37,682.
The committee has given approval for widening in nearly 70 km, which lies outside protected areas; while, the decision on 16 acres (entailing cutting 1,127 trees) within Kali Tiger Reserve is to be taken only by a Supreme Court committee.
The mitigation measures mentioned include cutting of trees “only if essential”, construction of one 50 m underpass for elephants, as well as space below culverts for movement of animals – all of which are “insufficient”, say activists.
“This is a joke. There is no mitigation at all. In the name of development, we cannot sanction destruction of forests... The trees that are going to be cut are endangered species and the region is one of the biggest bird habitats,” said A.N. Yellappa Reddy, environmentalist and member of the committee.
His objections, which included fear of irreversible damage and fragmentation of forests, raised during the discussions were dismissed as being “not significant and a developing nation cannot ignore the necessity of good and efficient road network”.
Similarly, activists point to sensitive wildlife that have become sitting ducks in front of speeding vehicles. Wildlife activist Giridhar Kulkarni says RTI data pulled out by him show that more than 50 large animals had been run over by speeding vehicles on 14 roads that pass through Kali Tiger Reserve.
No to widening in tiger reserve
“Animals cross in many points of the road and one underpass is not enough. Now that permission is given for most of the stretch, there should not be any widening in the tiger reserve. This 14-km stretch can be traversed by road improvements instead of widening,” he said, adding that at the minimum, speed curtailing measures employed in Bandipur must be followed.
P.S. Somashekar, IGP, National Tiger Conservation Authority, said permission had been accorded only to strengthen existing road width in tiger reserve and speed breakers and other speed control measures must be implemented.