NHAI road proposal from Gopalpur to Ratnapur rejected

NHAI 2,196 cr proposal for construction of road from Gopalpur to Ratnapur in Odisha rejected by Green panel

NHAI road project threatening olive ridley hits blind alley

Much to the relief of conservationists, a Central green panel has rejected the (NHAI’s) National Highway Authority of India’s Rs 2,196 crore proposal for the construction of 240.12 km road stretching from Gopalpur Port to Ratnapur in Odisha on the ground that it will threaten the habitat of endangered olive ridley turtles, migratory birds, and disturb the flow of at least 13 rivers, and affect floodplains. The proposal also involved felling of around 24,596 trees.

The NHAI had proposed the construction of new National Highway 516-A passing near the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary — country’s second largest mangrove forests after Sunderban — and further dividing Balukhand Konark Wildlife Sanctuary and Chilika (Nalaban) Wildlife Sanctuary in the State.

It is an important bird area and winter home for migratory birds from the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions during their onward and return migration along the east coast. Balukhand Konark is a nesting site for Olive Ridley sea turtles.

The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) for projects related to infrastructure development under the Union Environment Ministry in a meeting in January asked the NHAI to explore alternate route which does not affect the wildlife and wetlands.

Sources in the Ministry said the proposal involved construction of 2/4 laning with paved shoulder starting from  Gopalpur Port in Ganjam district and passing through Satapada, Konark, Astarang, Naugaon, Paradip Port to end at Ratanpur.

The NHAI had proposed acquiring 996 hactres, including 33.6 forest land, for the purpose which involved felling of 24,596 trees. However, the fact that at least 13 stream crossings namely Rushikulya river, Chilika Lake, Kushabhadra river, Kadua river, Prachi, Baradianadi, Borwan, Saunlia, Harhua, Gobari river, NuaNai river, Devi river and Mahanadi river were to be effected did not go down well with the EAC.

However, justifying the proposed highway with new alignment, the NHAI at the meeting of the EAC said it “has been envisaged through an area which shall have the advantage of simultaneous development as well as shall result in a shorter distance to travel.

“The junctions with existing road will be planned in the form of interchanges and flyover to ensure uninterrupted flow of traffic diversion. The proposed road would act as the prime artery for the economic flow to this region,” said the project proponent.

It also pointed out that it will “enhance economic development, provide employment opportunities to locals, strengthen tourist development, ensure road safety, and provide better transportation facilities and other facilities such as wayside amenities. Vehicle operating cost will also be reduced due to improved road quality.”

However, the EAC members were not impressed as they also noted that the pillars for the highways will also pass through Rushikulya and Devi river mouths which are home to tens of thousands  of olive ridley.

-12 March 2019 | Microstat