Wayanad - Kozhikode twin tunnel road can aggravate human-animal conflict : Expert panel

Kozhikode-Wayanad tunnel route
The tunnel road is being envisaged to ease transportation and reduce traffic congestion on Thamarasery pass. Photo : Manorama

Thiruvananthapuram: The proposed four-lane twin-tunnel road to establish direct connectivity between Wayanad and Kozhikode could lead to aggressive human-wildlife conflict, the State Expert Appraisal Committee (SEAC) has noted. The panel made this observation while considering the application for Environmental Clearance (EC) for the project. This observation has come at a time when the tender process for the most-awaited infrastructure project in northern Kerala is underway.

As per the minutes of the 163rd meeting of the SEAC, no solution has been proposed in the environment management plan (EMP) for reducing the impact of human-animal interaction (HWI). Wayanad is already experiencing high man-animal conflict and any barrier at the proposed tunnel mouth in the Meppadi area would force the elephants to utilise the alternate route through the Kalladi Colony and nearby settlements which are more populated. Such a situation could lead to increased human-elephant interaction which could lead to conflict situations.

As such, there is no possibility of avoiding the movement of elephants to the Kuppachi forest through the populated colonies once the tunnel mouth area is blocked, the SEAC noted. The committee also recommended creating a corpus fund for possible mitigation measures including ex-gratia payments considering the probability of increased human-elephant interaction, especially in the movement paths in the Meppadi range.

The tunnel road is being envisaged to ease transportation and reduce traffic congestion on Thamarasery pass which has nine hairpin bends over a length of 12 km, as per the social impact assessment report of the project. The designated vehicular speed through the tunnel is 80 km/hr and it is estimated that one hour can be saved in the journey to Wayanad and places like Bengaluru and Ootty.

The SEAC has decided to form a four-member sub-committee to conduct a field inspection and submit a report. SEAC also observed in the latest meeting that actions have to be taken for an under-passage (eg. box culvert) along the nearby streams to ensure the free movement of amphibians during the breeding season. An expert in the field of herpetofauna may be consulted for the implementation of the programme, SEAC has recommended.

The Central government had earlier given in-principle sanction/stage 1 forest clearance for the diversion of forest land for the construction of the twin tunnel with four-lane approach roads between Anakkampoyil-Kalladi- Meppadi connecting Kozhikode and Wayanad.

The draft environmental impact assessment report (EIA) prepared for the project showed that human-wildlife conflict is recorded across the project area and that it is high on the Meppadi side. In the southern region, many of the occupants left their places due to the issue. Higher conflict was reflected both in the number of cases that were registered against elephants in these districts as well as the amount of compensation paid for elephant-caused damages. Elephants were also among the top three wildlife species causing damage in this area, the EIA report said.

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