Big issue is conservation versus development, we need to find a balance: Dr. Vinod B Mathur

With infrastructure projects such as the Char Dham Road and other rail and hydroelectric projects being proposed in Uttarakhand, the Wildlife Institute of India has been tasked with doing impact asses

Published: 24th June 2018 08:19 AM  |   Last Updated: 24th June 2018 08:19 AM   |  A+A-

With infrastructure projects such as the Char Dham Road and other rail and hydroelectric projects being proposed in Uttarakhand, the Wildlife Institute of India has been tasked with doing impact assessment on flora and fauna. Richa Sharma spoke to WII director Dr Vinod B Mathur about the likely damage to the fragile Himalayan ecosystem. Excerpts from the interview:

Isn’t the massive construction happening in the Himalayan region likely to damage the ecology?
The question is of sensitivity and we have been trying to build sensitivity within authorities (central ministries and state). We have told them it requires careful handling and it will take a little more time but it will happen. They also realise that backlash happens. But we (WII) can provide a science-based solution and avoidance is the best form of solution. But in many situations, avoidance is not possible and then you see how you can do restoration.

Isn’t there need to carry on infrastructure work in a more sustainable way?
The big issue is of conservation versus development and being a developing country, we have a very strong imperative for development. Linear development like road, rail, power line and canal are important for development of the economy and trade. But they also have an important bearing on environment, forests and wildlife and what they do is break the continuity of forests. We are not the only one upgrading our infrastructure. It is done globally. We need to find a balance between the two -- linear infrastructure development and conservation of environment and forests.

What is the solution?
Nobody will say that we only want development or only conservation as that is not tenable and 
is not advisable in our current state of development. We (WII) have been given the responsibility by different ministries so that we can have win-win in development and conservation. We have recently come up with a guidance document for project proponents on what precautions to be taken wherever wildlife is involved.

Is religious tourism impacting the ecology?
Thousands of people are coming to Char Dham and they need better connectivity, all-weather roads and other infrastructure. The government is trying to have both rail and road connectivity. The railways has asked us this can be done in this fragile mountain system. We have to be very careful with the damage caused.

Aren’t laws being flouted to carry on construction projects?
The laws are very clear and it depends on interpretation of these laws and if you are hell bent on interpreting it in a different way, then very little recourse is there. So, it is very clear that every development has to go through a due process and I, as a scientist, can say that there are solutions to it, provided you are willing to see.

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