Madhya Pradesh forest department has warned the state’s Road Development Corporation (MPRDC) that the no objection certificate issued for road expansion would be cancelled if it does not expedite safety measures for wildlife in the Nauradehi wildlife sanctuary which is a possible home for cheetahs to be relocated from Namibia, official said.

The Supreme Court recently gave the go ahead for relocating Namibian cheetahs to a suitable habitat in India and the Nauradehi wildlife sanctuary in Bundelkhand is a possible home for relocating the spotted big cats, almost 70 years after the animal was hunted to extinction the country. The forest department in 2014 had approved construction of 22-km road in the sanctuary.

A forest department official who was not willing to be named, said the warning was issued to the road development corporation this month as there was no response after the department flagged the death of an average two wild animals on the road every day due to slow progress of the expansion work.

Foxes, jackals and different species of deer have been the victims of road hits mainly because of lack of underpasses for animals and signage for drivers.

The construction on upgrading of the road and bridge, connecting Sagar to Jabalpur, was completed in November 2017. “The work being done is very slow and not enough safeguards have been provided for the wildlife,” the official said.

Nauradehi wildlife sanctuary is about 55 kilometers from Sagar and is being developed as a possible cheetah habitat. In February 2019, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) had told the Supreme Court that cheetahs to be trans-located from Namibia in South Africa to India would be kept in Nauradehi wildlife sanctuary.

Another forest department official said, “We have already warned the MPRDC that if it doesn’t undertake the measures the department will be forced to initiate proceedings to cancel the no objection certificate (NOC) issued for upgrading of the road and construction of a bridge.”

As per the forest department’s letters to the corporation, the safety measures include construction of underpasses, signage and speed breakers. There are 19 speed breakers whereas the corporation needs to construct 35 more – one speed breaker at every 400 meters. Similarly, there should be 86 sign boards but there are only 25 that too for only speed limits. There is no signage on prohibiting blowing of horns and no signage that warn of the animal crossings.

“There is not a single structure of the road that meets the standards of an underpass. As a result, the animals are forced to cross the road by moving on its surface and come in the line of fast moving vehicles,” said the forest department in one of the letters to MPRDC.

“It is surprising that you continue to justify the utility of cattle underpass. When you are working in a sanctuary do you not know this much that it is wild animals who have movements here, not cattle? “There are different norms for underpass for different wild animals. As an elephant can’t pass through a mice burrow it’s a deceptive hope that all the wild animals can pass through the underpass constructed by you,” said then divisional forest officer, Sagar, Ankur Awadhia, in a letter written in May 2019.

Divisional forest officer (DFO), Sagar, Naveen Garg, said, “The corporation had agreed to all the conditions in writing through its letter dated January 19, 2017 but the commitment of the corporation is yet to be fulfilled as a result of which wild animals are killed in the accidents on the road. I have communicated to the higher-ups in the department that we need to take the final decision on the issue soon.”

The MPRDC said the required parameters were an afterthought of the forest department.

MPRDC Sagar division general manager, Anil Shrivastav, said, “The required parameters were not kept in mind at time of construction of this road and the forest department also did not tell us about this at the time of construction. However, we will start working on sign boards and new speed beakers. As far as construction of underpasses is concerned we have to obtain a fresh permission from forest department for an alternative road till construction work is complete on the road. It will take around 5 months to construct underpasses.”