On March 7, the Assam government informed the National Green Tribunal (NGT) that it had sanctioned Rs 11 crore to install automated sensor-operated traffic barriers to curb animal casualties in road accidents near Kaziranga National Park.
The state government informed a bench headed by Justice Jawad Rahim that once the assembly, currently holding its budget session, approves the funds, they will issue tenders for the barriers to be set up in six areas inside the park, according to Business Standard.
According to the World Wildlife Foundation, Kaziranga is currently home to more than two-thirds of the world’s greater one-horned rhinoceros population. Also known as the Indian rhino, this animal is categorised as being ‘vulnerable to extinction’ by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Poaching for illegal trade continues to be one of the biggest threats to the survival of this species, along with habitat loss and human-rhino conflict. Poaching has been responsible for the death of an estimated 74 rhinos since 2015.
Apart from the Indian rhino, Kaziranga is also home to the hoolock gibbon, swamp deer, elephants and tigers, among other species.
In May 2017, the NGT – hearing a case by environmental activist Rohit Choudhury opposing the expansion of NH-37, which runs through the park – reprimanded the Assam government for numerous animal deaths in and around Kaziranga due to road accidents.
A bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar then ordered that any vehicle going over 40 km/hr inside the national park would have to pay an environmental compensation of Rs 5,000 in addition to the commensurate fine under the Motor Vehicles Act.
The bench also directed the Assam government to improve the condition of sensor barriers in the park and file an affidavit informing the NGT of their technical and operational aspects. This was in response to existing barriers not preempting hit-and-runs, with at least four animals killed in January-April 2017.
Later, the NGT rejected the government’s plea to deploy more manpower instead of installing sensor barriers declaring that barring budget constraints, the government had no excuses to choose manpower over automated barriers.
For the animals of Kaziranga, overspeeding vehicles are not the only cause of concern. Massive floods in 2017, the result of heavy downpours, killed 361 animals, including 31 one-horned rhinos and nine elephants.