With the Pench Tiger Reserve (PTR) facing another biggest assault amid felling of thousands of trees by National Highways Authority of India (NHAI), the authority’s double standards and arm-twisting for the expansion of NH7 has come to the fore.
Even as tree felling is in full swing, the NHAI has started repairing and tarring of existing two-lane 37km NH7 stretch between Mansar and Khawasa. Conservationists have raised question mark over NHAI’s tarring and repairing of existing road. “The road repairs could have been taken up in 2012-13 when the existing two-lane between Mansar and Seoni was full of craters and in bad shape. But NHAI never repaired the road completely and did it only when there was pressure,” said former member of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) Kishor Rithe.
Sources said NHAI repaired the road in 2013, that too partially, only following pressure from one of the MP high court judges who used to travel through this road from Nagpur. It was also repaired after protests from locals.
“What NHAI is doing now could have been done then also and saved many lives. The issue of wildlife clearance for NH7 was raised in the NBWL meetings. We always stressed on repairing the existing road till clearances are granted but NHAI never repaired the road completely,” Rithe said. “Now that it has got all clearances, it is repairing the existing two-lane road. It is apparent that as NHAI wanted clearances it resorted to arm twisting by not repairing or tarring of existing road,” said conservationist Prafulla Bhamburkar.
On the contrary, a senior NHAI official said, “We are not tarring the 37km road but just repairing by filling potholes. A target of June 2016 has been set to complete the four-laning but we plan to do it by December 2015.”
When asked why the road was not repaired then, the official said, “At least 40-50 crore would have been spent for resurfacing and still it would not have been a permanent solution.” The Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court had taken suo motu cognisance of TOI report of September 29, 2013 about bad condition of the road.
A senior forest official, who was part of NHAI meeting, said, “After HC bashing, NHAI was virtually on the verge of floating tenders to resurface the road, but one of the top BJP leaders from Nagpur, who is now a minister, told NHAI officials that if the road is tarred, it will never become four-lane. The NH7 expansion got a twist since then.” The existing NH7 passes through Pench Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh and its buffer areas that are rich in wildlife and important forest corridor connecting Kanha and Pench. On Maharashtra side, though mitigation measures have been announced, Central India’s biggest tiger corridor to Indravati, Navegaon-Nagzira, Tadoba will be destroyed.