Despite two rejections and staunch opposition of environmentalists, the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), on Tuesday, cleared widening of the section of Mumbai-Goa-Kochi NH-17 passing through Karnala bird sanctuary near Panvel. The NBWL is headed by Prakash Javadekar, minister of environment, forests and climate change (MOEF&CC) and unlike in the past, has only a few non-governmental members.
Currently, the NH-17 has only two lanes passing through the bird haven and it falls on the 84-km Panvel-Indapur stretch. "We cleared the project in yesterday's meeting and have allowed for increasing the road to four lanes. While approving the project, we have asked the state government to add part of adjacent forest land in the sanctuary and also carry out compensatory afforestation," Javadekar told dna.
The proposal to widen the highway from existing two lanes to four lanes has been pending approval since the past five years. NBWL rejected it for the first time in 2009 and later in 2013 too. The project was approved by State Board for Wildlife in 2014 and once again came to the NBWL for approval. In 2009, the NBWL rejected it on the grounds that the sanctuary area, 12.11 sq.kms, was not too big but was home to rich biodiversity. In 2013, KishorRithe, non-governmental member of the NBWL had stated that since alternate routes were available, the proposal to widen the highway inside the sanctuary was rejected.
Interestingly, when the project was taken up for appraisal last August, the NBWL said alternate routes were not feasible.
The widening of the highway will happen on a two-km stretch and involves diversion of close to two hectares of the sanctuary. The Karnala bird sanctuary, established in 1971, lies 60 kms south-west of Mumbai and is quite popular with trekkers, birders and wildlife enthusiasts. The sanctuary is home to 190 species of birds and almost 30-40 species of migratory birds visit the sanctuary during winters. The first sighting of the bird Ashy Minivet was recorded at this site. The sanctuary is also home to the four-horned antelope, wild boar, jungle cat, Indian fox and the endangered leopard. The existing two-lanes of the NH-17 already pose threats to the conservation of this sanctuary in the form of pollution, littering of solid waste and illegal resorts. Since MoEF&CC has not yet released the detailed minutes of the NBWL meeting, it is not clear what the conditions laid down by the ministry before clearing the widening of project.