12.7ha of mangroves to be cleared for Borivali-Virar railway expansion
The Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation has sought permission from the state forest department to divert 12.7 hectares of mangrove forests across Mumbai (Suburban), Thane and Dahanu districts
Mumbai The Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation has sought permission from the state forest department to divert 12.7 hectares of mangrove forests across Mumbai (Suburban), Thane and Dahanu districts to make way for the fifth and sixth railway lines between Borivali to Virar on the western suburban railway, being executed under Phase III-A of the Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP) at a cost of ₹2,184 crore.
The 26km long, broad-gauge railway line is expected to help decongest trains, increase the frequency of trains beyond the western suburbs and reduce the number of accidents, officials said. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, chaired by the prime minister, had approved Phase-IIIA of the Mumbai Urban Transport Project in April 2020 to improve the connectivity of mass rapid transport between Mumbai, Thane, Palghar and Raigad districts.
“There are right now five lines between Mumbai Central and Borivali and the sixth line is under construction. From Borivali to Virar there are only four lines, so the bottleneck effect at Borivali will worsen if the network is not expanded further. This will also segregate suburban and non-suburban services on the western line beyond Borivali, and create independent slow and fast corridors between Virar and Churchgate which will allow for us to increase services across the entire length,” said an official with the MRVC.
As per the MVRC’s proposal, the 12.78 hectares of mangroves proposed for diversion are located in Mumbai’s Dahisar village (3.68 hectares), Thane’s Penpada village (1.42 hectares) and Palghar’s Umele village (7.67 hectares). Though forest clearance applications typically ask project proponents to submit an analysis of alternative alignments for linear intrusions, the MVRC has clarified that no such analysis is possible in the given instance because of the “site-specific” nature of this project and that the area sought to be cleared is “barest minimum and unavoidable”. The MRVC is yet to obtain necessary clearances from the Bombay High Court for the clearing of mangroves, and CRZ clearance from the state coastal zone management authority.
Zoru Bhatena, a city-based environmentalist, said that the loss of mangroves has to be seen in the context of the project’s benefits. “The railways are an extremely important mode of public infrastructure. There stand to be significant benefits by expanding services on one of the world’s most congested and accident-prone train systems. But before clearance is granted, there needs to be a publicly available plan for transplantation and compensatory afforestation which can later be verified on the ground by citizens. A loss of 12 hectares isn’t hard to offset, but past experiences with afforestation and transplantation do not inspire much confidence,” he said.
The Phase-IIIA of the MUTP also involves the construction of a 55km fast elevated corridor between CSTM and Panvel on the Harbour Line, a new suburban railway corridor of 70kms connecting Panvel to Virar, extension of the Harbour Line between Borivali and Goregaon (7kms), a fourth railway line between Kalyan and Asangaon (32kms), and a third and fourth railway line between Kalyan and Badlapur (14 km). The entire project is being executed at a cost of ₹54,777 crore, borne equally by the state government and the Union ministry of railways.