New Delhi: The Assam government has told the National Green Tribunal that traffic on a stretch of a national highway bypassing the Kaziranga National Park cannot be restricted absolutely as the road is an economic lifeline to areas rich in tea cultivation and coal and oil production.
Even as it was pulled up by the NGT over "ruthless killing" of several species of animals by allowing heavy traffic movement on the stretch bypassing the famous park, the Assam government claimed there has been no significant rise in mortality rate of animals in the past over two decades.
"The state government being a welfare state cannot ignore the welfare of the people who reside in lakhs in various townships in Upper Assam," the Assam government said in an affidavit submitted before the NGT.
"Further upper Assam is very rich in tea cultivation, coal and oil production, therefore, the state government is duty bound to protect the economic lifeline to that part of the state by balancing steps taken and to be taken to protect the wildlife of KNP area," it said.
"Records reveal that animal population in KNP is also increasing due to various conservation/ protection measures taken by the state forest department since 1991 while the mortality rate due to accidents has not shown any significant increase," said the affidavit filed by Assam Chief Secretary.
On the Numaligarh Refinery Ltd (NRL) located near KNP and which supposedly adds to traffic on the stretch with trucks moving to and from the unit, the state said the MoEF should have monitored compliance of conditions imposed while granting clearance, which include diversion of the stretch bypassing KNP.
The NGT is hearing a plea filed by RTI activist Rohit Choudhury opposing expansion of the NH-37 stretch running through the national park claiming that "continued unregulated use of NH-37 is leading to death of wild animals and reptiles in large numbers in road accidents".
The Tribunal had on October 9 directed the Assam government to apprise it about the steps taken and proposed measures to protect the wild animals of KNP.
On the office memorandum of MoEF by which environmental clearance was granted to NRL, the Assam government claimed ignorance about conditions imposed on the refinery which included diversion of particular stretch of NH-37 bypassing KNP.
"No sincere effort was taken by NRL, the Ministry of Petroleum and the MoEF for compliance of the clause of diversion and denotification of the stretch of NH-37 while closure of the stretch passing through KNP now will cause immense suffering to the common people...," it said.
The affidavit said the MoEF ought to have conducted post monitoring regarding compliance of various conditions through its regional office in Shillong.
"Had any such violation of condition been ever brought to the notice of the state government, the state could have taken appropriate necessary steps accordingly. But there are no such records available with the state government and the state PWD was not aware of the conditions stipulated in the Office Memorandum dated May 31, 1991."
It reiterated that the state is very much "conscious about the safety of the wild animals of the KNP but at the same time the interest and livelihood of huge chunk of people residing along the NH-37 in the KNP stretch and people living in entire upper Assam cannot be ignored as this being the only road link to connect the whole upper Assam, Nagaland and southeast Arunachal Pradesh to the rest of the country".
The affidavit also lists the measures taken by Assam government like erection of road signages, speed breakers and night patrolling in KNP.
It submitted that it has already proposed to divert the traffic to four-lane highway which may reduce major volume of traffic on the stretch of NH-37 passing through KNP.