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Centre says no to mobile towers in core tiger habitats

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New Delhi, Feb 6 (PTI) The Centre has disallowed installation of mobile towers in core or critical tiger habitats in the country, according to new guidelines by the Environment Ministry.

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In an order issued in January, the ministry highlighted that the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (SCNBWL) has been receiving a large number of proposals for erection of mobile towers and laying of optical fiber cables in national parks, sanctuaries, and tiger reserves and corridors.

It said while providing connectivity to the people residing within or near wildlife-rich areas should be taken on priority, "the protection and conservation of wildlife habitats should not get affected" by such installations.

The ministry also expressed concern that the mobile connectivity could be misused by offenders of forest and wildlife laws.

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"The core/critical tiger habitat, notified under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, should be avoided for installation of the tower," read the order issued to the chief wildlife wardens of all states and Union territories and the ministry of communications.

The ministry said any proposal seeking recommendation of the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife for 4G connectivity in such areas must be accompanied by an undertaking from the district magistrate concerned indicating non-availability of alternate revenue/private lands.

It should also include drawings/sketches of the location of various components of the proposals within the required land and a plan for movement of the equipment and men for erection of towers and their maintenance, the order said.

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The user agency will be required to provide an undertaking that call data records of suspected persons for contravention of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 will be provided when requested by the officer not below the rank of deputy conservator of forests having jurisdiction over the area.

The ministry also said new towers should not be installed within a radius of one kilometre of the existing towers to prevent overlapping of high radiation fields.

"If new towers are required to be built, these should be erected with utmost care and precautions so as not to obstruct the flight path of birds, and also not to increase the combined radiations from all towers in the area," the ministry said.

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It said the location and frequencies of cell phone towers and other such installations emitting electromagnetic radiation should be made available in the public domain.

Location wise GIS mapping of all cell phone towers should be maintained which would inter alia help in monitoring the population of birds and bees in and around the mobile towers and also in and/or around protected areas, it said.

Jose Louies, the chief of enforcement at the Wildlife Trust of India, said: "Installing mobile towers in core tiger habitats would mean laying power cables, deploying generator sets and movement of people which could disturb the wildlife. Mobile towers outside the tiger reserves also provide good connectivity." A tiger reserve includes two parts: core or critical tiger habitat and buffer or peripheral area.

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According to the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, the critical tiger habitats are core areas of the tiger reserves meant to be “kept inviolate for the purpose of tiger conservation".

The buffer area surrounds the core habitat and serves as a transition zone.

While the core habitat remains intact, the buffer area allows for sustainable human activities and coexistence with wildlife.

The number of tigers in India have increased from 2,967 in 2018 to 3,682 in 2022, an annual rise of 6 percent, according to latest government data. PTI GVS ZMN

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