The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has issued the first draft of guidelines related to minimising the adverse impact of linear infrastructure intrusions such as roads and power lines on natural and biodiversity-sensitive areas in the country. The document was prepared by the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife and the final draft of the guidelines is likely to be issued in two months time after receiving the public feedback.
The document presents a framework and an overall policy based on priority - prevention, realignment, restoration, and mitigation for the existing as well as new projects related to roads and power lines in natural areas.
According to the guidelines, movement of vehicles should be strictly restricted to existing roads and tracks, and creation of new roads and tracks or off-roading shall be prohibited in these areas.
In the case of existing roads in wildlife-protected areas, guidelines recommend to reduce and maintain the width of primary roads to less than 7.5 metres and width of secondary roads to less than 4.5 m. It also calls for a provision of speed breakers at every 400 m of roads passing through natural areas. The draft further recommends for imposing prescribed entry fees for all vehicles entering the natural areas.
On banning the night traffic in critical conservation areas such as National Parks and Tiger Reserves, guidelines put forth that a “complete ban on night traffic along roads may be implemented using existing provisions in the law (Section 38V of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972)”.
Meanwhile, specific guidelines for power lines urge for ban on permitting low power lines and open canals in natural areas and call for the use of underground power cables along the existing road alignments.
For saving elephants from electrocution, the document suggests various heights for installing power lines based on terrain. It further notes that “initiating projects in natural areas and their vicinity should only be undertaken after a comprehensive Social and Environmental Impact Assessment (SEIA) carried out by an independent agency.”
The guidelines further call the MoEF to coordinate a nationwide effort in conjunction with the State Forest Departments, conservation NGOs, and individuals to identify linear intrusions that are disused, defunct, abandoned, or particularly harmful for conservation in the natural areas. Aside from this, the document also includes specific guidelines on wastes, construction of underpasses, overpasses and flyways.
The present guidelines would apply to all roads and power lines that pass through national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, tiger reserves, elephant reserves and designated corridors and other ecological important sites.