By Krishnendu Mukherjee
KOLKATA: Within weeks of a controversy over tiger number in Buxa, the North Bengal park is in the midst of another row.
A development project — construction of a 400KV transmission line by the Power Grid Corporation of India — through the tiger reserve's core area is threatening its biodiversity. What's more, the project includes diversion of more than 16 hectares forest land for the high-tension transmission line and towers for supplying power to North Bengal from Bhutan.
The proposal will be taken up for discussion at the ninth meeting of the state board for wildlife at Nabanna today. The meeting is being held after a gap of three years. Interestingly, a proposal for declaring Alipurduar as Buxa Biosphere Reserve, too, will be discussed in the meeting.
Confirming the development, state forest minister Binoy Burman said that it's the agenda item number 3. "I will talk to the officials there to know how much impact the power line will have on wildlife there. If we find that the project disturbs the wildlife in the forest, we won't give it a clearance," he added. Sources revealed that there is pressure from the Centre on the state to clear the project, a proposal for which was submitted to the chief wildlife warden in December 2013.
A department official revealed that the proposed alignment involves more than three kilometres forest area under Kumargram beat of Kumargram range of the tiger reserve, of which more than one kilometre falls within the Kumargram forest village.
But, wildlife experts are concerned since the forest harbours a wide range of animal diversity. Apart from a few tigers, about 70 leopards, more than 200 elephants and close to 400 Indian gaurs, at least 246 species of birds are found in the forest. Power lines in such areas may cause significant damage to volant animals, such as birds and bats. There's also risk of fire and power outage.
According to conservationists, accidents may happen during high-speed winds and cyclones. An elephant had died a few years back in the nearby Butri forest due to fall of high tension line. Besides, a number of PWD roads and a National Highway passing through the tiger reserve are already creating pressure on the protected area.
"We will ask for an environmental impact assessment (EIA) by a neutral agency first before a clearance is given to the project," said state wildlife advisory board member Biswajit Roy Chowdhury. Another member of the board Animesh Bose said Buxa has a good buffer area and the project can also be shifted there. "We have to explore this scope to solve power woes and save wildlife in the region," he added. Echoing his view, another member of the board, Joydip Kundu, said one needs to think about the consequences before going ahead with such projects.
General manager of Power Grid Corporation, G C Dhal, said: "The transmission line will have the capacity to carry 1100MW power. Since these will be overhead lines, the impact on wildlife will be minimum. Besides, most of the project site falls in riverbed areas." The proposal for constructing a broad gauge rail line from Bengal's Sevoke to Sikkim's Rongpo, cutting through Mahananda Wilidlife Sanctuary, will again be taken up in Tuesday's meeting.