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Assam struggles to protect wildlife from accidents on Kaziranga highway

Government has expressed its inability to adopt suggested technical measures to curb animal casualties

imageThe state government, which in 1991 promised to decongest the stretch, has not been able to keep its promise (Photo: S H Patgiri)
The Assam government has issued an affidavit stating the hurdles in complying with a directive of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) that asked for the installation of sensor-operated and automatic traffic barriers in the Kaziranga National Park. These barriers can help to control the movement of traffic on the traffic corridor on National Highway 37 that passes between the national park and has been criticised for animal casualties.
In the affidavit submitted before the principal bench of NGT on March 12, Assam had informed the tribunal of the steps taken by it in response to the latter’s directive of February 5. This was when the NGT had directed the state government to ensure fixation of sensor operated automatic barriers and speed check cameras on the animal corridors and to stop dhabas and eateries along the animal corridor.
Through the affidavit, the state government stated that there was no field-tested and proven system which can be bought off the shelf. Various technologies that are available for detection have to be studied first, along with field trials, to find out the technology that best suits Kaziranga’s ecology. 
The Assam government also mentioned the difficulties it faced in implementing the suggested technologies like automated barriers. According to the affidavit, automated electro-mechanical gates take several seconds to operate and their sudden closure on being signalled that an animal is crossing the highway might lead to serious accidents. Moreover, detection of animals which are present at the sides of the highway only to graze and not to cross the road will be difficult. Therefore, keeping the gates closed for a long time on corridors like Kaziranga National Park will not be easy to achieve. Also, it will be tricky to identify the location and number of barriers along the long corridor.
The state government, however, mentioned that the warning lights or sign boards can initially be activated manually by using thermal cameras and night vision binoculars. 
The government also informed that the transport department had deployed three traffic interceptor vehicles for detection of over speeding vehicles within 66-km stretch of NH 37. Nearly 640 cases of speed violation had been detected by the district transport officers of Golaghat, Nagaon and Jorhat areas over the past one year. To ensure proper compliance with speed limits that have been fixed to prevent animal casualties, the state government is trying to procure two more interceptor vehicles at a cost of about Rs 55 lakh. Another Rs 20 lakh would be spent to buy breath analysers that identify drunken drivers. 
It further said that the recommendation of the expert committee, formed as per the directive of the Tribunal, to construct flyovers on NH 37 “may be modified” as new areas have been added to the national park and additional animal corridors have been identified. Solutions like tunnels instead of flyovers can be encouraged to reduce disturbance caused during construction of the latter. It has also been proposed that the aerial ropeway bridge for arboreal animal crossing will be replaced by a vegetated corridor.
Meanwhile, the Assam government has also initiated an action to remove and demolish the unauthorised structures on the roadside, particularly at the animal corridors. For this purpose, the land on corridor is being identified, and the boundary on the land is being prepared by the revenue and forest department. 
The Assam government, when approached by Down to Earth, said that it is taking all the directives seriously. “I have already issued directives to all the senior government officials associated with Kaziranga, and also to the officials who will work assist implementations of the steps which have been mentioned by the state government in its affidavit,” said Atwa Munda, Assam environment and forest minister. 

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