DEHRADUN: In a major blow to the efforts of conservationists, the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) on Tuesday gave a final clearance to the Ganeshpur-Dehradun Road (NH72A), which is an extension of the Delhi-Dehradun expressway. The project required wildlife clearance as a 19.78-km-long stretch of the road – from Ganeshpur (in UP) to Dehradun – will pass through the eco-sensitive zone of the Rajaji Tiger Reserve and the Shivalik Elephant Reserve.
Even though barely 3.6 km of the expressway will be in Uttarakhand, the Himalayan state will have to forego over 2,500 British-era Sal trees and around 10 hectares of reserve forest area which is a part of the eco-sensitive zone of Rajaji. Uttar Pradesh, which will have around 16 km of the expressway, will give away over 47 hectares of its forest land which is a part of the Shivalik Elephant Reserve too.
The move had triggered an outcry from nature-lovers as the area is home to several endangered carnivore species like tigers as well as herbivore species like elephants besides over 300 species of birds. Experts say that adding to the woes of wildlife in this patch is the fact that Uttarakhand will not get an ‘elevated expressway’ like Uttar Pradesh, but simple broadening of the existing 3.6km-road.
“From Mohund to Asarori on the Dehradun border, it takes barely 28 minutes and if the expressway is made, it would take 18 minutes. For reducing travel time by just 10-12 minutes, why should Dehradun sacrifice its 2500 trees, which are over a century old?” said Himanshu Arora, secretary, Citizens for Green Doon, an NGO which has also filed a petition against tree felling for the Centre’s ambitious Char Dham all-weather road project.
Scientists, too, say that any type of tree removal from the Shivaliks will lead to erosion and impact the overall ecosystem services being given by these huge Sal trees. “Tree felling in the Shivalik foothills would lead to dry climate and thereby add to global warming. Also, Sal trees take lot of time to regenerate and form a perfect habitat for endless species of animals as well as birds, and therefore, felling of these trees would be a significant loss to the area’s biodiversity,” said JM Tomar, principal scientist, Indian Institute of Soil and Water Conservation (IISWC), Dehradun.
The chief wildlife warden of Uttarakhand forest department, JS Suhag meanwhile said that the road widening will have “strict mitigation measures in place as suggested by the experts of Wildlife Institute of India such as barriers on both sides of the road to block and absorb noise and light pollution, bamboo plantation etc and monitoring for 2-3 years to monitor animal road kills and man-wildlife conflict in nearby areas, if any.”