Kali Reserve: Act against PWD

Kali Reserve: Act against PWD

The Public Works Department’s brazen disregard for the sanctity of protected tiger reserves is a reason for serious concern. In November last year, Deccan Herald reported that the PWD had violated several rules under the Wildlife Act and the National Tiger Conservatory Authority (NTCA) guidelines. Based on documents it accessed under the Right to Information (RTI), the newspaper drew attention to 10 linear projects, including widening of roads and construction of bridges and culverts in the eco-sensitive zones of the Kali Tiger Reserve. The report prompted the Karnataka Forest Department to set up a high-level committee to probe the irregularities. The investigation has reaffirmed the newspaper’s findings: the PWD has been constructing infrastructure projects worth over Rs 100 crore in gross violation of rules. The rules forbidding infrastructure in eco-sensitive zones of tiger reserves are not ambiguous. Rules of the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife, for instance, prohibits widening of existing roads. It clearly says that the status of finishing of the surface of repaired roads must remain the same as that of the original roads. It clarifies this further by stating that “untarred roads shall remain untarred after repairs, and only originally tarred roads shall be repaired and tarred.” Given the clarity of the rules on infrastructure building and repair, there is little scope for confusion. The PWD’s projects, therefore, were deliberate. It chose to violate the rules. Apparently, the local range forest officer wrote to the PWD asking it to seek permission from the national and state boards for wildlife as well as the chief wildlife warden before commencing construction work. The PWD ignored the officer’s orders and pressed on with the illegal work.

The rules forbidding infrastructure in the eco-sensitive zones of tiger reserves were made for a reason: to provide tigers with an unfettered run of the protected area. Roads in such areas bring in a large number of vehicles and tourists. These disturb the silence of the forests. Tarred roads also cut migratory paths of wild animals. The PWD’s actions pose a grave threat to the survival and way of life of the Kali Reserve’s tigers.

The government must act against the PWD officials who allowed the construction activity. Importantly, we need to know whose interest they were serving by violating the rules. It is possible that they were acting on behalf of tourist agencies and resort owners or even the real estate mafia. The uncovering of the PWD’s illegal activities has been done and confirmed. The process must be taken to its logical conclusion now by punishing the guilty officials and the masterminds. Simply levying a fine will not be enough. The illegal infrastructure must be dismantled immediately.