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Elevated Kaziranga corridor

The proposal to construct a 35-km-long elevated Kaziranga corridor to protect the wildlife of the national park

Kaziranga

Sentinel Digital Desk

The proposal to construct a 35-km-long elevated Kaziranga corridor to protect the wildlife of the national park from vehicle-hit and facilitate their undisturbed movement along natural animal corridors of the park landscape is awaiting approval of the Central government for long. It is heartening to know that Union Minister of Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari has assured Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and members of Parliament from the state that the project is on track. The elevated corridor is proposed to be built over the National Highway 37 that runs parallel to the southern boundary of the World Heritage Site. Animal corridors at seven locations of a 54-km stretch of the national highway from Ghorakati of Burapahar range to Bokakhat witness incidents of park animals either getting killed or injured in vehicle-hit. Incidents of vehicle-hit increase during the rainy season when large numbers of animals leave flooded areas of the park to higher lands of Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong landscape across the highway for food and shelter. Apart from the flood season, animals also migrate through these corridors round the year. Efforts by the park authorities to protect the animals from speeding vehicles by enforcement of speed restrictions have failed to produce effective results. A committee of experts constituted by the National Tiger Conservation Authority in 2014 identified six corridors in the landscape— Kanchanjuri–Burapahar (4 km), East Haldibari– Bagori (2.82 km), Borjuri–Panbari Beat (4.40 km), Burapahar–Deosur Nala (2.5 km), Amguri East (300m), Amguri West (1 km) a Hoolock Gibbon crossing near Kukrakata. The committee while reviewing a proposal of the Assam government, recommended construction of overpass/flyover/bridge instead of underpass and eco-ducts as long-term measures to safeguard wildlife movement. Journey across the elevated corridor is also expected to attract more tourists to the national park as they will have a better view of the park landscape on both sides of it and also migrating through the animal corridors. The report also highlighted the rise in vehicular traffic along NH-37 and pointed out that while the Wildlife Institute of India 2011 estimated 5371 vehicles per day in 2011, the committee found 6,326 vehicles during its field visits in 2014. The committee suggested traffic management may include "reducing traffic volume at peak traffic hours which coincides with peak animal activity, stopping night traffic especially during the monsoon season." Highway stretch also being part of the Asian Highway 1, the longest route on Asian highway network from Japan to Turkey via Southeast Asia, Bangladesh and India are going to have more vehicular traffic in the long run, as India is deepening its multilateral relations with ASEAN under Act East Policy and with Japan on the Indo-Pacific initiative. Assam has succeeded in curbing the poaching of rhinos in Kaziranga to a great extent. Kaziranga has also become the first national park in India equipped with satellite phones. Equipping the forest personnel with satellite phones will bolster anti-poaching measures initiated by the park authorities. Expediting the elevated corridor project is critical to ensuring a safe environment for all wildlife species in the landscape. It will also facilitate the smooth movement of residents living on the fringes of the park and other users of the highway. The NTCA-constituted committee also suggested that the width of the proposed flyovers should be the same as that of the existing road to avoid any funnelling effect at the beginning and end of the flyover, which needs to be ensured during the design of the proposed elevated corridor. The Central and the State government also needs to ensure implementation of another key observation and recommendation of the expert committee on arresting human settlements adjoining the highway. "To have a safe passage for the animal through proposed crossing structures and reduce conflict while crossing, there is need to secure the land across the parking area," the committee stated and cautioned that the growth of this settlement shortly will hinder the movement of animals across the landscape. While the elevated corridor will provide a solution to the problem of vehicle-hit, securing the areas for animals along the corridors to access the existing highway by removing the construction and regulating future growth activities on the corridors will be vital to ensure smooth movement of park animals to the southern part of the park landscape beyond the national highway. Hotels, roadside eateries, shops, commercial space and human settlements along highways have blocked not just the corridors but also vast areas which park animals used for their movement. Given the increase in traffic volume, delay in approval and construction of the elevated corridors will only lead to more death of park animals due to vehicle-hit. It is hoped that the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways will accord approval to the Rs 2625-crore ambitious project on a priority basis and ensure a dedicated flow of funds without any further delay.

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