New Delhi: A terrified female hog deer with its baby in tow crossing a highway with cars and trucks zooming past makes for nerve-wracking pictures.
But anxiety turns to agony when the animal is crushed by a vehicle and is left lying in a pool of its own blood.
That’s because while rains and flood can be dismissed as routine “natural” events, building a road through a national park with no safety features for animals screams murder.
Welcome to Kaziranga National Park (KNP) in Assam – a UNESCO World Heritage Site, residence of our unique single-horned rhinoceros and a famed tiger reserve.
But when it comes to protecting its over 60,000-strong population of big and small wild animals, it seems to have one villain still to deal with – the National Highway 37. The route – a popular one that connects parts of Assam with neighbouring Nagaland and Manipur – ensconces the park on the southern side while the mighty Brahmaputra river forms the tiger reserve’s northern frontier.
But that also routinely leads to the problem of wild fauna being stranded and endangered when floods hit the park every July-October. Fleeing animals try to get to the highlands of Karbi Anglong hills, which lie on the other side of NH 37, and get bludgeoned under the careless wheels of loaded trucks and cars.
DEATH TOLL RISES
This year, the toll is 13, up from six in 2016. Though built long back by the British, and said to have been widened in the 1970s, experts have since vocally opposed its expansion owing to the spate of deaths every year. Currently, it runs from Jakhalabandha to Bokakhat along KNP.
Rohit Choudhary, an RTI activist who has been working alongside the park authorities, says, “We filed a case in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on the issue in 2013. As per its order, Section 144 has been imposed along NH-37, according to which vehicle speeds are to be controlled at 30 km per hour. The park authorities are doing their bit.”
But he is clearly unhappy with the conduct of the state’s transport and public works department (PWD), which is not helping to mitigate the issue. “No interceptor vehicles were deployed by the transport department to check the speeding vehicles this time. Rumble strips were not put in by the PWD here. Had interceptor vehicles been deployed round the clock and rumble strips been installed, the casualties would have been far fewer,” he complained.
Concerned by the issue, a bench headed by NGT chairperson justice Swatanter Kumar also recently asked the Assam government about installing “speed sensors” to alert vehicles when an animal is approaching. So far only one such speed sensor has been installed at a phenomenal cost of Rs 1.21 crore, that too for only a 300-metre stretch of the NH 37.
In fact, Director of KNP, Satyendra Singh, says, “If we were to instead engage people instead of the sensors, we could have employed 12 people for 10 years at the Rs 1.21 crore cost, and we would have achieved the aim.”
But clearly, there are more problems than just that. Dr Rathin Barman, Deputy Director of the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), who also closely works with the KNP authorities, says, “In the rainy season, when Brahmaputra inundates KNP’s low grasslands, wild animals are forced to migrate to the Karbi Anglong hills by crossing NH 37 using specific ‘corridors.’ There are four – Panbari, Haldibari, Kanchanjuri and Amguri.”
“But encroachment and tourist facilities have blocked them to a large extent,” he says. Activists rue that there are also several stone crushing units, limestone quarries and saw mills, which form a wedge between them and the corridors, leading them to either drown in water or run in unsafe directions where poachers await them.
“It is essential that animals can freely move in a crisis time like flood or it is triple trouble for them,” Barman says. More so, the park authorities are yet to build more ‘highlands’ within the park so that the animals can take shelter within its safe arms.
There are 111 such artificial ‘peaks’ here currently, but most have worn out over time. As a result they do not provide the requisite height or space. Director of KNP, Satyendra Singh, told Mail Today, “This is a requirement and we are looking forward to fulfilling it very quickly using the extra silt taken out of KNP’s own wetlands. At least 33 are in the procedure now.”
courtesy: India Today