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Wildlife, NHAI officials inspect NH7 near Pench

Even as highways and shipping minister Nitin Gadkari wants to expedite the stalled four-laning on NH-7 in the 37-km patch from Mansar to Khawasa bordering Pench tiger reserve and Mansinghdeo wildlife sanctuary, the forest department is taking no chances. The state's chief wildlife warden Sarjan Bhagat and other senior officials surveyed the spot on Friday. Bhagat, along with senior wildlife and territorial wing officials and two National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) engineers surveyed the 37-km stretch to ascertain the facts.

Gadkari, in a meeting on June 14, had asked the forest officials to expedite the proposal, which has been now forwarded by Pench field director to the chief wildlife warden for his comments. "I had not inspected the spot before. Hence I wanted to make an on-spot verification about the facts before giving my comments," said Bhagat.

"I will soon forward the proposal with my comments to the state board for wildlife (SWB), which will later forward it to NBWL," Bhagat added.Though Bhagat did not go into the details about his visit, sources said Bhagat looked into the alignments and widths within which the NHAI was to carry the project. Of the 37km road, 17km is a dense forest patch while the remaining is private land.

According to sources, Bhagat is likely to stick to the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, report, which has been submitted at the instance of both NHAI and National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) on the direction of Supreme Court.

Bhagat sought to know about revision of the proposed plan as per WII recommendations. However, NHAI officials accompanying Bhagat is learnt to have told him that if WII recommendations are followed, the project cost would go up by INR 550 crore and a revised plan will have to be cleared from the Centre.

However, sources said Bhagat is of the view that any changes in the WII report will have to be done at the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL). After the site visit, Bhagat is learnt to have agreed that the stretch is a vital wildlife corridor to Kanha, Nagzira-Navegaon & Tadoba tiger reserves.

Pench reserve has said yes to road widening subject to implementation of WII recommendations. It has also asked to deposit 2 Percent of the project cost to Pench tiger foundation for the upliftment of communities living around the tiger reserve.

Though NHAI has suggested 39 structures (14 underpasses & 25 pipe/slab/box culverts) in 9km patch passing through Pench, WII recommended 11 underpasses with change in height from 4 mt 7 mt and width from 70 mt to 200 mt.

The suggestions follows studies conducted by the environmental impact assessment cell (EIAC) of the WII stating that several spots in the 37-km stretch were well established crossing zones for wildlife animals.

Source-On Request