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Free movement of elephants hit by LSHEP, claims book

 GUWAHATI, Oct 8 - The Right of Passage: Elephant Corridors of India, a book published by the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) in 2017 in collaboration with Project Elephant says: “The hydro-electric project in Lower Subansiri has affected elephant movement in the area.”

This adverse impact on the elephant movement in the area is attributed to construction of project-related infrastructure and activities downstream of the dam axis.

But this observation which was preceded by the Gajaraj Report of the Elephant Task Force in 2010, with a similar observation, has allegedly been ignored while constructing the LSHEP Dam and its related infrastructure. And now, it has been sought to be further ignored allegedly by granting forest clearance to the proposal for drawing two new transmission lines through the Subansiri Reserve Forest without conducting a cumulative impact assessment study on the elephant corridor.

It is learnt that the Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd (PGCIL) has applied to the Assam Government for forest clearance for drawing the above lines through the Subansiri Reserve Forest.

It needs mention here that the WTI and the Asian Nature Conservation Foundation (ANCF) in collaboration with forest departments of the states, Project Elephant and several researchers, had identified 88 elephant corridors and published a report titled – ‘Right of Passage: Elephant Corridors of India,’ in 2005. The report was endorsed by Project Elephant, Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and all state forest departments.

The Elephant Task Force formed in 2010 also recognised these corridors and strongly recommended that they zbe legally protected and secured through various approaches.

Later, since July 2013 to December 2015, a field survey was consequently initiated by the WTI in collaboration with Project Elephant to update the status of existing corridors and identify new ones that might have emerged in the intervening period and to prepare a conservation plan for securing them. This led to the identification of a minimum of 101 elephant corridors in use across the country and seven corridors that were previously identified were found to have been impaired in the last decade.

Of the corridors currently in use, 28 are in Southern India, 25 in Central India, 23 in Northeastern India, 14 in Northern West Bengal and 11 in Northwestern India. As estimated, 69.3 per cent of these corridors are being regularly used by elephants, either around the year or in a particular season and 24 per cent are being used occasionally.

Ecologically, some 57.5 per cent of these corridors are of high priority and 41.5 per cent of them are of medium priority, indicating that most of the corridors are important for elephant movement and also to maintain a healthy elephant population.

Environment activists here are critical of the Union Government’s official stand on the issue involving the elephant corridor downstream of the LSHEP project. The Subansiri Basin Study done by the Union Government has maintained that the impacts of flow fluctuations is minimal after 40 km. But the Dulung-Subansiri elephant corridor is only five km downstream of the LSHEP dam, argued the environment activists.

Normally, elephants cross the Subansiri river between October and March, when the flow is less. After commissioning of the LSHEP, the flow will vary between 240 cubic metres per second (cumecs) and 2,560 cumecs. The flow of 2,560 cumecs is more than the average monsoon flow and will sweep away any animal crossing the river, thereby making the entire exercise a very risky one.

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