Why build a rail corridor at the cost of forest land?

  • Ayaz Memon, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Mar 04, 2016 00:59 IST

The Delhi-Mumbai freight corridor, which will connect Nhava Sheva Port to Dadri in Uttar Pradesh, is a blue riband project of the railway ministry. This is part of the Central government’s effort to boost infrastructure.

The approximately 1,500-km corridor is expected to cost a whopping 90 billion USD, all to be funded by Japan, and will ultimately put the commute between the capital and the city on fast track. All of this is fabulous and deserves a thumbs-up.

However, the big dampener is that this corridor will run through vast tracts of forest land (58 hectares according to reports), cutting through the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivli and the forest divisions in Dahanu and Thane.

What is the rationale in eliminating so much forest land, especially when objections had been raised earlier by the state forest department itself? Why can’t the corridor be built along a route which preserves forest land, even it means it becomes a little longer?

The national park is a magnificent landmark of the city, and integral to the citizens.

Much as south Mumbai is made fun of for rarely venturing beyond the Hornby Vellard, except to go to the airport, there would hardly be anybody who has not made at least one trip to Borivli national park.

Perhaps from school for a history lesson at the Kanheri Caves, for mini-amusement park rides, a wildlife lesson, or even a religious trip.

As the city has grown, the 100-km stretch of forest at Borivli has come closer to all of us. No matter where you live in the city, the importance of the National Park cannot be overstated.

In a city starved of open spaces in any case, this is our main green lung. What is does not need is a railway line running through it, even for a project as important as the Delhi-Mumbai freight corridor.

Some rumblings against it can already be heard. Aaditya Thackeray, scion of the Shiv Sena, has tweeted, “Destruction of Mumbai won’t be allowed by the Party. Delhi-Mumbai corridor is from Dadri to Nhava Sheva. Can avoid forest destruction”.

The Shiv Sena is a political and ideological part of the NDA government along with the Bharatiya Janata Party in the state and at the Centre.

The allies have been at loggerheads, often in peevish one-upmanship. But this is one issue when you have to agree with the Sena and the young Thackeray.

There is no cause to destroy Mumbai’s lung for a train corridor.

Such a project clearly highlights the disdain with which the environment and ecology has been treated by various governments over the years.

It has always been difficult to keep the city’s green patches, green.

Politicians and developers have been working hand in glove to exploit any and every opportunity and have been nibbling away at the national park’s edges for years.

Most cases of leopards straying into the city, for instance, have been because of encroachments into the forest area, as officials of the national park have been painstakingly trying to explain for years.

Moreover, the national park is not just a wildlife sanctuary and a green lung, it is also a water catchment area for the city. All told, it is a sensitive ecological zone that needs every sort of protection for all our sakes.

Apparently the land approved for the railway corridor by the state forest department already belongs to the railways and the national park can do nothing about it. But if we can, a course correction is still possible.

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