Animal Nepal today relaunched its campaign against road and railway construction inside Chitwan National Park. The organisations strongly opposes the construction of an East West Railway, Terai Hulaki Highway and feeder roads inside the park and through the Chure hills. “Chitwan is a unique protected heritage site that has taken us forty years to develop. The government has no right to destroy its habitat in the name of development,” says Animal Nepal.
Nepal’s government announced its plans to construct a Terai Hulaki Highway and East-West Electric Railway in Terai, cutting through Chitwan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage, in July 2013.
The projects threaten tourism and decades of conservation that has rescued the tiger and rhino from the brink of extinction.
A Nepali Times write up quotes the worried Park’s Chief Warden Kamal Kunwar: “If we cut the national park into pieces with road and rail, it will discourage animals from breeding and reduce the number of tigers and rhinos,” he says.
Hemanta Mishra, architect of Chitwan National Park, too speaks out strongly against the construction projects: “There is no rationale for building a road or railway through one of the world’s most outstanding and successfully operating national parks. A railway line and a road through the park without a comprehensive environmental and social impact assessment would undo 40 years of investment by the government, private sector, and the local community.”
The East-West Railway is a mega project that aims to connect Mechi in the east to Mahakali in the west of Nepal. Ideally the railway will follow the existing East-West Highway, which borders the park in the north, but as it will ad 30 km to its length the Department of Railways prefers a shortcut through the park.
Hulaki Road network is a Rs 11 billion Indian-assisted project to upgrade old postal and feeder roads, totalling over 1,450km across the Tarai. Rail India Technical and Economic Services (RITES) conducted the feasibility study for the railway.
Conservation agencies are considered about the plight of Chitwan’s unique flora and fauna, including the world’s most threatened species, the rhino, tiger and elephant. Last year Nepal celebrated ‘zero poaching year’, said to show the commitment of the Nepal government to wildlife protection.
Eco-tourism activists are worried about the potential impact of a reduction of wildlife and drop in visitor numbers to Chitwan. More than 150,000 people visited the national park annually, bringing in revenue of over Rs 177 million in entry fees alone.