ALERT member Priya Davidar, a leading Indian ecologist, tells us about growing threats to India's protected areas and the imperiled wildlife they harbor:
Terrestrial protected areas constitute less than 4.9 percent of the geographical area of India and harbor many endangered species. These reserves suffer severe fragmentation and a variety of diffuse human-related disturbances.
For example, the survival of the Asian elephant and the Bengal tiger in India hangs by a thread because they are increasingly confined to small isolated protected areas.
Given the precarious conditions of such emblematic and endangered species, environmental clearances in protected areas -- such as permissions to disrupt parks for new mining or infrastructure projects -- are a serious affair.
Such environmental clearances have to be approved by a statutory body, the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife.
Unfortunately, in the name of 'development', pressures on the last remaining wild refuges are growing.
India's conservative national government has reconstituted the National Board for Wildlife -- by conveniently choosing experts who are rapidly approving projects in crucial wildlife habitats, including five tiger reserves.
Among the controversial clearances is the proposed expansion of National Highway 7 through one of the vital corridors between Kanha and Pench Tiger Reserves.
By degrading the corridor, this highway will reduce dispersal of the tiger and consequently its long-term viability in one of the finest tiger habitats in the world.
The new National Board for Wildlife also cleared a proposal to construct a road through Kutch Desert Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat, which will doom India's only nesting ground for flamingoes.
Notably, the previous Board had unanimously rejected the proposal, after a site inspection conducted by an expert committee.
Another astonishing clearance was given for a major dam in Zemithang Valley, in the biologically crucial region of Arunachal Pradesh. This is one of two essential wintering grounds for the black-necked crane, a highly vulnerable species.
Everywhere one looks, protected areas seem to be under assault.
India's current government seems determined to advance 'development' at all costs. But will diminishing the nation's critical wildlife areas -- which have already suffered greatly -- bring the kind of development that India really needs?