New road in Arunachal Pradesh to shorten travel distance by 25 km – at cost of a Biodiversity Hotspot

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Photo courtesy to Native Planet

Fathima Shirin

“Arunachal Pradesh has to do industrial development”, said Union Minister of state For Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale while attending as Chief Guest in a Nyokum Yullo celebration of the Nyishi community recently – a festival that underlines the importance of harmony between man and nature. He was simply echoing a fast-track development that had already been set forth.

During his visit in February in 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated and laid the foundation stone of projects in Arunachal Pradesh worth over Rs 4,000 crore and said his government was giving a lot of importance to improve connectivity in the sensitive border state – this elevated corridor through the Pakke Reserve is estimated at Rs 2550 crore.

According to the Design Project Report (DPR) which was made based on satellite imagery and presented to the high-powered committee (HPC) on the road project, Ahmedabad based consultancy firm, Nektor Engineers & Project Consultants (NEPC), proposes an elevated corridor in this identified animal corridor – a length of 49 km within the park.

Arunachal Pradesh in north-east India is the richest terrestrial biodiversity region in India – home to nearly 6000 flowering plants and half of the bird species known from India. Pakke reserve lies in this region of Eastern Himalayas which is a meeting ground for biogeographical realms with diverse ecological gradients and the associated diversity of flora and fauna.

“The 692.70 km long industrial East-West Industrial Corridor road, which is proposed to run along the foothills on the boundaries of Arunachal and Assam, will pass through the heart of the Pakke Reserve which besides massive loss to wildlife habitat can prove to be disastrous to ecosystem services due to mass wasting to soil, land & excessive sediments in the rivers.“ said Chetan Sheth, a research scholar at National Centre for Biological Sciences. Environmental activist Tana Jorjo Tara has said the project would be in violation of the Forest Acts of 1940 and 1972. According to the Forest Conservation Act (FCA), any kind of survey, investigation, and exploration is not permitted to be carried out inside national parks and wildlife sanctuaries by any agency. Even the forest department is not permitted to demarcate sample plots without obtaining prior approval of the National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) and the Supreme Court.

There are alternate routes available via Assam and Arunachal to reach Seijosa or Bhalukpong. The existing route from Seijosa to Bhalukpong is around 73km with further shortcuts. This Rs 2550 crore worth elevated corridor merely reduces travel by 25 km. But once this corridor is erected it is inevitable that the existing economic activities and development would proliferate around it which would only further the destruction of this sensitive zone. A wild analogy can be drawn from the recent contention regarding the Kollegal-Mysuru-Kozhikode road which is also the backbone of the inter-economic activities of Wayanad, today. Over the decades, alongside the traffic in the region, the fatalities in animal populations too have increased manifold and a reconciliation almost impractical and impossible.

As this elevated corridor receives approval for construction people of Arunachal are concerned and frustrated about the dilapidated stretch of Trans Arunachal Highway (TAH) road (the most significant among all existing road projects)- from Papu-Yupia -Doimukh-Hoj-Potin filled with deep pits and potholes which has led to many accidents and awaits its maintenance since 3 years.

Fathima Shirin is an architecture graduate from Srinivas School of Architecture, Karnataka. Shirin writes on architecture, development and culture.

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