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'Why not curb vehicles on jungle roads?'

Concerned by high animal mortality in traffic accidents on roads passing  through thick forests, the Supreme Court on Friday issued notices to the Centre and 10 states asking why mitigating  measures, including a dusk to dawn ban on vehicles on forest roads, be not taken immediately.

Amicus curiae Harish Salve moved the application before the court's green bench comprising Justices Aftab Alam, K.S. Radhakrishnan and Ranjan Gogoi.

He pointed to the disturbing number of deaths because of "up gradation, widening  or indiscriminate  construction of new roads through areas, which have thick forest and which are rich in wildlife without first putting in place mitigative measures".

Salve mentioned the high incidence of death of animals, which collide with vehicles of the 54 stretch of of NH 37 passing through Kaziranga (a world heritage site recognized by Unesco) to escape flood waters of Brahmaputra in their attempt to flee towards higher grounds of Karbi Anglong forests.

A study by the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) eight years ago suggested construction of seven underpasses and 100-150 meter long tunnel through raised grounds for safe passage of animals without their coming to the road. “The MoEF and the Assam government have not yet taken any steps to implement the recommendation, Salve complained.

He said the apex court had in 2009 banned heavy and commercial vehicle movement on a state highway passing through Sariska tiger reserved and a ban on all vehicular movement during the night. This order is yet to be implemented. he said.

Salve said the apex court had in November 2008 closed traffic at night on the Mysore-mananthawadi road passing through Nagarhole national park and ordered putting speed regulating measures like rumble stripe. he said roads were being indiscriminately constructed or upgraded even in ecologically sensitive  without seeking permission from competent authorities under the Wildlife Protection Act.

On the benefit of mitigation measures, Salve gave the example of Zanzibar (East Africa), where installation of just four speed breakers helped reduce mortality of the threatened red colobus monkeys by 85% in the first nine months. Closure of roads from dusk to dawn, or from 9pm till 7 am, has become necessary, Salve said. "This has been done between Mysore and Ooty which passes through two protected areas with very high concentration of wildlife, he added.

                                                                The Times of India, New Delhi, 19th January, 2013