Friday, November 27, 2020

Nepal court blocks road construction in rhino stronghold of Chitwan Park


Abhaya Raj Joshi


Nepal’s Supreme Court has ordered the government not to construct any new roads inside Chitwan National Park without approval from UNESCO, park authorities and other stakeholders.

Chitwan National Park is home the world’s second-largest population of greater one-horned rhinos (Rhinoceros unicornis) as well as a significant population of Bengal tigers (Panthera tigris tigris), 54 other mammal species and more than 550 varieties of birds. Chitwan’s extraordinary biodiversity led to its inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

However, plans to construct road and rail links passing through the park alarmed conservationists, and in 2017 landed Nepal with a formal warning from UNESCO that moving forward with the proposed projects could put Chitwan on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

Following the UNESCO warning, plans to develop the proposed East-West Electric Railway and Terai-Hulaki Highway were put on hold. The court’s verdict, issued following a Feb. 13 hearing, means that the government now has no choice but to accept the terms UNESCO puts forward for these projects.

According to the details of the court order, released Feb. 14, the judges held that building a road through the park without UNESCO approval would violate international treaties and agreements to which Nepal is party. The court said the planned projects can be built only after their environmental impact assessments are approved by Chitwan National Park, UNESCO and other stakeholders.

The court also noted that its attention had been drawn to another warning issued by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee in October 2018, via a letter not made publicly available, detailing the committee’s requirements for an environmental impact assessment.

The verdict came in response to a petition originally filed in 2012 by lawyer Ramchandra Simkhada, who had requested a court order to halt the construction of the 30-kilometer (19-mile) East-West Highway because it would pass through the habitat of endangered animals and plants.

Originally published on Mongabay on 15 February 2019

Published on Lokantar on 17 February 2019