` Unplanned roads can cause a lot of damage'
William Laurance, professor at James Cook University, Australia, says though India has a lot of areas where road construction can benefit agriculture,it also has a number of exceptionally important environments where new roads can cause a lot of damage. Excerpts from an interview In the global road map you have generated, a large part of India is marked feasible for road making. Does this mean India need not worry much about environmental issues before laying roads? No, it is not that simple. Areas in red are where road benefits would be greatest and where environmental values are less pronounced. But even in such areas, roads can and will have environmental impacts. For instance, it has been shown that tigers in India can move across large areas of settled and semi-settled land between tiger increasing roads and agricultural intensification, the settled lands between reserves will become more hostile for wildlife such as tigers.
Also, of course, India has a number of exceptionally important environments where new roads can cause a lot of damage. Some examples would include the country's national parks, rainforests Himalayas, and tropical and higherelevation forests in Arunachal Pradesh.
However, in broad terms our study does indicate that there is much potential in India to improve agriculture. Road improvements, such as paving, can contribute to agricultural productivity by better linking farmers with markets and making fertiliser and agricultural technologies more accessible. Lack of infrastructure has been a big issue in India. What key issues should be kept in mind while planning new roads? Our key points are that roads that penetrate into wilderness areas or parks can cause a great deal of environmental damage, and so one has to be very careful about planning new roads.
Our study tries, on a broad global scale, to underscore the kinds of situations where roads can be most harmful and where they can be most beneficial. Actual road planning will also need to incorporate local-scale information, because the global datasets we had access to are often too coarse for actual road-planning. How should areas that appear ecologically sensitive on your map but already have roads laid out be dealt with? Many environmentally important areas around the world already have roads. A key priority is to limit further road proliferation in these areas, and even to close some existing roads if it appears that they are causing a lot of environmental damage and generating only limited benefits.