Death on Asphalt

Background

SPOAR originated in a region that is biologically diversified in flora and fauna, the district of Jalpaiguri in the state of West Bengal. This is a sub-Himalayan region called the Dooars, home of the Gorumara National Park along with many other forest lands like Chapramari, Diana, Baikunthapur etc. SPOAR, from the very beginning, stepped forward to save the wildlife and wild habitats of the region. The problem germinated due to the national Highway passing through Gorumara National Park and wildlife corridors. The roadways are killing wildlife much more in numbers than poaching and hunting combined together. Since 2010, SPOAR has organized campaigns and awareness drives to make people and authorities understand the issue and take necessary steps, but measures didn’t come along as it should have. Back in 2011, a notice was sent to the Executive Engineer, PWD (Road) from the office of the DFO (Wildlife Division II) mentioning the reasons for unnatural deaths of wildlife due to over speeding vehicles and reckless driving, requesting the department to put up speed breakers to reduce the number of wildlife deaths. No such steps were seen in this matter.

RTIs issued by different members of SPOAR cleared the fact that the forest department didn’t have any evidence of the huge number of wildlife roadkills in NH717 (formerly NH 31) that goes through Gorumara, nor of the Uttar Dhupjhora road stretch between Murti bridge and NH 17 (formerly NH 31C). To fight the cause with a strong hand SPOAR and PUBLIC conducted a two-day awareness drive in 2015, on the Highway 717 in cooperation with Forest department and the local Traffic police. Many school students participated in the drive, distributing leaflets, stickers and collecting signatures from each driver passing by who signed individual datasheets and took an oath for driving carefully while maintaining the speed limit of 40kmph.  A small change was seen for a few days.

But soon the situation became same as before and it became clear that the authority along with the general people need to see the damage in reality with data and statistics to gauge the severity of the situation. SPOAR gathered the news, pictorial proofs, data, etc. and presented it to the District Administration in a meeting conducted in June, 2016. A few major initiatives were declared at the meeting (“The District Magistrate would issue a prohibitory order on heavy vehicles on the Lataguri-Gorumara stretch between 9pm to 6am and Murti to NH31C stretch between 8pm to 6am” was one of them), but they’ve never been implemented in reality. In June, 2017, DM, Jalpaiguri, assured the concerned organization of some steps, but were never taken. Now it was time for SPOAR to move the next big rock.

LAST FEW YEARS DATA:

SPOAR has conducted roadkill surveys and monitoring to estimate the amount of wildlife killings in Gorumara and Dhupjhora. The outcome was really worrying. Some of the endangered and threatened species were seen getting killed due to overspeeding vehicles. Leopard Cat (Schedule 1, WPA), Fishing Cat (Schedule 1, WPA), full grown Leopard (Schedule 1, WPA), Indian Gaur (Schedule 1, WPA), Civet Cats (Schedule II, WPA), Ferret Badgers (Schedule II, WPA), Rhesus Monkeys (Schedule II, WPA), a huge number of reptiles including the King Cobras (Schedule 1, WPA) and countless amphibians, even birds are getting killed in these two stretches of National Highways. Some of these deaths has been reported in the newspapers and electronic media. The authorities are aware of this but never a necessary initiative has been taken from the Government to monitor these incidents. The data collected by SPOAR over the years put in a chart below, shows the severity of the situation.

Year Survey Days No. of Total Roadkill
2014-15 31 247
2015-16 43 389
2016-17 45 403
2017-… 39 394

In last two-three years, development in tourism has resulted in an increased traffic in the highways near the national park area. Naturally, the incidents of roadkill has also increased at a higher rate. These incidents occur more frequently for reptiles with the onset of Monsoon while a good amount of accidents with larger animals happen in the winter due to fog.

CURRENT PROJECT: With the beginning of 2018, SPOAR became ready for large scale mass appeal to bring an end to this wildlife slaughtering on roads of Gorumara. SPOAR voiced a public appeal through organisation’s Facebook page, reaching to people in social media whoever wanted to be a part of this effort wholeheartedly and strengthen it furthermore. This bought ROADWATCH (an initiative of WTI) team and SPOAR together who joined hands to build awareness among people to drive carefully to save the wildlife and to bring an end to the on-road slaughter of wildlife. An event was organised by SPOAR and ROADWATCH on 21st February, 2018, in Lataguri NIC, Gorumara, to introduce the ROADWATCH app in the region. The team members of SPOAR, co-ordinator of ROADWATCH Ms. Radhika Bhagat, members from other organisations, Forest guides, safari car drivers, and Forest officials of the Govt. of West Bengal were present in the program and participated in the workshop as well. The forest guides and drivers were given instructions on how to use the ROADWATCH app to record the roadkills and help build a roadkill-database in the vicinity of Gorumara National Park.

To continue the effort thoroughly for a particular time period to reflect the roadkill pattern in the region, SPOAR and ROADWATCH appointed a Roadwatcher (Supported and Funded by WTI and David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation) to survey and record data from both the road stretches that cut through the forests. The Roadwatcher surveys both the 10 km and 7 km stretches of roadways daily, taking pictures of roadkills and uploading them using the Roadwatch app. The collected data helps to reveal potential threats for any particular species that might be facing local extinction. This ongoing survey of roadkills has revealed some interesting facts about the species diversity and abundance in Gorumara and adjacent areas, indicating grave danger for such exquisite faunal diversity of the region. Since the project started on 14.02.2018, more than 500 wild animals has become roadkills. We’ve submitted the roadkill datasheets two times to the Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife, Northern Circle). CCF has issued letters to DFO (Gorumara Wildlife Division) both the times requesting the office to take immediate actions necessary to stop the incidents. But, there are no apparent actions taken as per the directions from the CCF’s office.

RECOMMENDATIONS: SPOAR has repeatedly appealed to the Forest and other departments requesting measures to stop this massacre on the roads. The measures are not only to put an end to this roadkill incidents, but to safeguard the community animals and people in general, too. SPOAR stands to fight the causes and recommends the measures below.

Firstly, SPOAR recommends an alternate route for Lataguri-Malbazar transportation. There’s another road that reaches Malbazar, via Neora More and Barodighi. This road skips the forest stretch and also reduces the total road length by 4 kms. This road can easily be reformed to become the main road for public and private transportation which will minimize the wildlife roadkills to a large extent.

Secondly, taking some measures in 10 km stretch of NH717 (Lataguri-Chalsa) such as-

  1. Running all the Jalpaiguri-Malbazar transportation vehicles through the alternate route.
  2. Forest department cars and other emergency vehicles should be permitted from 6 am to 7 pm, strictly on 40 km/h speed limit.

Thirdly, for the 7 km stretch of NH17 (Murti bridge-North Dhupjhora) it should be-

  1. Forest department cars and other emergency vehicles should be permitted from 6 am to 7 pm, strictly on 40 km/h speed limit.
  2. Re-routing traffic through alternate road during day time.

Finally while the alternate route is under construction, some important steps can be taken for the time to minimise the possibilities of roadkills and accidents-

  1. Installing speedometers and surveillance cameras in these two forest stretches to identify the over speeding vehicles.
  2. Imposing fines and penalties for over speeding vehicles in these roads by traffic police at the entry-exit and others sensitive points of these roads.

Installing rumble stripes at important points of road such as the wildlife corridors.

AN APPEAL

We’ve tried all possible means of discussions and appeals to the authorities for taking any effective step to stop these roadkill incidents on these national highways. But, there aren’t any measures taken that could change the current scenario. This is why we’re now preparing to take our last possible step towards mitigating the issue with legal petitions. We’re going to move the judiciary to help the cause and stop this massacre on road. As we are a non-profit organisation, we can’t properly approach for such steps without adequate fund in our hands and this delay is taking away more lives each very day.

WE ARE, HENCE, APPEALING TO YOU TO HELP US FIGHT THE CAUSE AND SAVE THE ENDANGERED WILDLIFE FROM BECOMING HAPLESS VICTIMS OF HUMAN CARELESSNESS. COME AND JOIN US TO RAISE OUR VOICE AGAINST THE WILDLIFE ROADKILLS AND BRING JUSTICE TO THE COUNTLESS SOULS.

Death on Asphalt
Scroll to top