BHUBANESWAR: Even as elephants continue to be mowed down by trains in the State, the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI)'s expansion plan for NH-55 has come as a further and bigger threat for the jumbos in major wildlife corridors of the State.The NHAI is upgrading its Angul-Sambalpur section, measuring 150 km, from two to four lanes and it would require felling of a whopping 23,685 trees in forest land alone.
The Angul-Sambalpur stretch happens to be a major corridor for large mammals like elephant, tigers, leopards apart from other forms of wildlife. Though the NHAI has proposed a site specific wildlife conservation plan, the impact of the project is going to be huge.The NH-55 (or erstwhile NH-42) connects the NH-53 at Sambalpur and NH-16 at Cutttack. The NH authority decided to upgrade it in view of the rapid growth of traffic in the corridor.According to information accessed by The Express, land requirement for the project would stand at 614 hectare of which 109 hectare is forest land besides non-forest land of 505.3 hectare.
At least 114 villages would be affected by the upgradation project in four division of Angul and Sambalpur districts.The recommendation of the Forest and Environment Department for the project is self-explanatory. "Though the forest areas to be diverted are not part of any national park, wildlife sanctuary, tiger reserve and eco-sensitive zone, movement of wild elephants and presence of large predators and other wild animals are noticed in the area," says the report.In fact, a part of the forest and non-forest land comes under the proposed elephant corridor.
More importantly, the proposed tiger corridor linking Satkosia and Similipal Tiger Reserves (TRs) passes through the area which is what the Forest Department acknowledges.The highway, which passes through Angul and Sambalpur districts, will have an impact area in 10 km radius of the boundary of the project. The total impacted area is estimated at a massive 3,102 sq km. The two districts equally share almost the impacted zone.The four divisions are home to over 170 elephants while the leopard population is estimated at 29.The expanded highway will have Satkosia Wildlife Sanctuary on its southern side and Khalausni and Badarama to the north.
Movement of elephants is regular and they use the road to cross over to habitats.Except for Sambalpur, Angul and Rairakhole divisions report frequent man-animal conflict. In Angul Division alone, over 30 persons were killed by elephants in last four years whereas in Rairakhol, the number is eight.While traffic projection for the stretch is multi-fold, the linear infrastructure project will lead to further fragmentation of habitats, isolation of the animals, noise pollution and road kills.Currently, the mad push for linear infrastructure has proved to be the biggest killer of wildlife in India.Though the forest areas to be diverted are not part of any national park, wildlife sanctuary, tiger reserve and eco-sensitive zone, movement of wild elephants and presence of large predators and other wild animals are noticed in the area - Forest and Environment Department