The state forest department has voiced a jumbo concern by ordering the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) to construct three underpasses on the upcoming 163km-long Ranchi-Tata highway to prevent man-animal conflict.
NHAI has undertaken a project that will widen NH-33 from the present double lane to four lanes.
Work is being carried out by concessionaire Madhucon Projects Limited — appointed by the NHAI — at a cost of Rs 1,479 crore.
However, the widened lanes will cut through routes frequented by elephants from Dalma Wildlife Sanctuary. The elephant reserve is located along NH-33 on Ranchi-Tata Road. Though there has not been any report of animal casualty due to speeding vehicles so far, the risk quotient will increase exponentially after the four-lane comes up.
Thus, the forest department has identified three places — Asanboni, a point near Dalma sanctuary gate and the third in between these two places — where the subways need to come up.
Divisional forest officer of Ranchi (wildlife) Kamlesh Pandey said that after conducting an extensive survey along with Wildlife Institute of India about two months ago, they had submitted the GPS locations of these three locations to NHAI.
“The GPS study gives the exact location of any place. It is a foolproof system. We preferred it so that there is no diversions from the plan. After identifying the places, we have recorded their GPS readings and submitted to NHAI. They will now build the underpasses at these three spots,” Pandey told The Telegraph last Friday.
On choosing these sites, Pandey said all the three were crucial elephant movement zones. Jumbos migrate from Dalma to nearby jungles in Seraikela, Khunti and cross border to go to the forests in Bengal and Odisha round the year.
“There is no doubt that we need good roads, but animals are equally important. With massive deforestation because of the road project, many animal corridors have vanished. Underpasses are now mandatory to avoid conflicts,” said a Dalma officer.
On being asked, NHAI manager (technical) M.K. Pandey simply maintained that they would try and adhere to the existing rules. “Wildlife is an important aspect. Hence, whatever specifications have been laid down, we are bound to follow those,” said Pandey.
The four-laning project, however, is staring at a deadline failure.
The project is supposed to be ready by June 2015 after which Madhucon will manage and maintain it for the next 15 years. But, menial spadework like clearing side patches and felling tress has been done till date,
“Monsoon is knocking at the doors. Till date, no black tar work has been done. So, meeting the June 2015 deadline looks impossible,” said a NHAI official on condition of anonymity.