By Devendra Bhardwaj
Ever seen a tiger cross a four-lane highway? Wildlife activists say they dread the prospect as the Rajasthan government eats into the predator’s shrinking habitat with a decision to widen a thoroughfare passing through the popular Sariska reserve.
When broadened to four lanes, the highway will bisect the territory of two tigers in this national park, and experts fear it will lead to a surge in traffic and human interference.
“The government cannot take the decision to widen the road without consulting the state wildlife board and the national tiger conservation authority (NTCA), since the state highway passes through the core area of the tiger reserve,” said honorary wildlife warden Anil Jain, calling the decision a violation of Wildlife Protection Act, 1952.
Observers say the two tigers frequently cross the road as their territories fall on both sides of the two-lane state highway, a part of which will be integrated into a national highway with two lanes added.
Sariska Tiger Reserve (STR) field director RS Shekhawat shot off a letter to the superintending engineer of National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) against the proposal, asking him to get permission from the Supreme Court and the National Wildlife Board before beginning construction.
India’s tiger numbers dwindled to 1,411 in 2006, when the first scientific census was conducted, as widespread poaching, shrinking habitats from deforestation, prey depletion and poor management of the country’s 47 tiger reserves took their toll.
However, census figures in January showed the tiger population jumped 30% in four years, signalling that conservation efforts and clampdown on rampant poaching as
According to reports, Sariska currently has 13 tigers, including two full-grown males, seven females and four cubs.
In his letter, Shekhawat also asked the highways authority to plan flyovers as corridors for the movement of wildlife, including tigers.
“It is estimated that out of the 23 kilometre stretch of the NH, almost a third will have to be developed as underpasses and flyovers to ensure safe passage for the movement of wild animals. The remaining highway needs to be fenced to prevent animals from coming on the highway and causing accidents,” he said.
The field director added that special care was required while digging a wildlife corridor under the highway in areas used by animals to cross the road as he also stressed on the need for a scientific study to assess the impact of the project and called for suggestions and measures to reduce negative impacts.
“The existing highway also passes through the historical and ecological site Talvraksh, which has rare trees like Arjun. We have to save this place because it also gets a lot of tourists,” he said.
The new national highway, to be called NH 248 A, will span 127km in Rajasthan, of which 23km will pass through the Sariska reserve.well as illegal trade in tiger skin and body parts paid off.