Framing Ecologically Sound Policy on Linear Intrusions Affecting Wildlife Habitats

Road and powerline through forest
Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF)
Man-made linear infrastructure are now widely recognised to have many highly detrimental ecological effects in natural ecosystems.

In the 20th meeting of the Standing Committee of the NBWL held on 13 October 2010, it was discussed that linear intrusions were a serious issue and a sound policy needs to be framed consulting various experts. The Chairman requested the member of the Standing Committee from the Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore, to prepare a background paper that could be discussed at the next meeting to move towards the formulation of a policy on linear intrusions at the national level. An effort was then made by the member to collate existing information, consult subject experts and other members of the NBWL. This background paper summarises findings and key concerns and proposes an outline of urgently-needed policy measures, rules for practice, implementation and monitoring.

Background

Man-made linear infrastructure such as roads, highways, powerlines, railway lines, canals, pipelines (water, gas, petroleum), electric fences, and firelines, are now widely recognised to have many highly detrimental ecological effects in both terrestrial and aquatic natural ecosystems. Such linear intrusions into natural areas cause habitat loss and fragmentation, spread of invasive alien species, desiccation, windthrow, fires, animal injury and mortality (e.g., roadkill), changes in animal behaviour, increased developmental, tourist and hunting pressures, increase in pollution, garbage, and various disturbances. They may also have negative effects on indigenous and marginalised people, rural and forest-dwelling communities both directly through exposure to new social and market pressures, loss of land and relocation, as well as by inequitous distribution of costs and benefits from infrastructure projects. In present-day India, infrastructure expansion and proliferation of linear intrusions without heed to ecological and social impacts is creating immense pressures on natural areas, thereby compromising the long-term value of these areas, their ecosystem services, and imperilling the prospects for more holistic and sustainable development.

Most of the linear intrusions implicated in such ecological and social impacts are considered crucial infrastructure for economic sectors such as transportation, power, and irrigation. Modern improvements, incorporating landscape and ecological considerations, on the design and placement of linear infrastructures are available but remain virtually ignored. Many infrastructure projects are also frequently implicated in poor and unlawful practices in relation to project development, implementation, monitoring, and appraisal. While a range of legal stipulations, orders and guidelines exist, these are not well organised, often ignore important ecological and social science considerations, are poorly enforced by authorities, and frequently flouted by project proponents. Affected parties seek redressal through litigation, activism, or media pressures resulting in revisions, cancellations, or delays in project implementation. This situation urgently requires the formulation of a comprehensive and broadly applicable national policy and appropriate rules for implementation of ecologically sound practices and alternatives to harmful linear intrusions in natural areas.


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