SC appointed panel suggests scrapping railway project in Western Ghats
All three projects were cleared in April last year by the Standing Committee of National Board for Wildlife (SCNBWL), chaired by Union minister of forests Prakash Javadekar, sparking uproar and protests in Goa.
Empowered Committee (CEC) constituted by the Supreme Court has recommended withdrawal of the environmental approval to doubling of the single line railway track between Tinaighat in North Karnataka and the port town of Vasco da Gama in Goa. The line cuts across the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats and the CEC said that the project will only marginally enhance railway capacity but cause big damage to the fragile ecosystem of the Western Ghats, an internationally recognised Biodiversity hotspot. The recommendation is being seen as a big win for environmental activists.
The CEC also recommended that the Goa-Tamnar 440KV power line should be set up along the alignment of the existing power line to save fresh forest areas from intrusion. In the third major recommendation, the panel cleared the four-laning of NH-4A between Anmod and Panajim if done as an elevated corridor to prevent any harm to the wildlife.
All three projects were cleared in April last year by the Standing Committee of National Board for Wildlife (SCNBWL), chaired by Union minister of forests Prakash Javadekar, sparking uproar and protests in Goa. The Goa Foundation, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) invested in preserving the ecology, challenged the projects in the SC. A copy of the CEC report was submitted to the top court and another was given to the Goa Foundation.
“[The] CEC does not find any justification for undertaking a project of this nature which will destroy the fragile ecosystem of the Western Ghats... an internationally recognised Biodiversity hotspot and one of the most important wildlife corridors of the Country. Moreover this doubling project will only be marginally enhancing the capacity of the most inefficient section of the Railway Network passing through ecologically sensitive and biodiversity rich tiger Reserve, two Wildlife Sanctuaries and a National Park,” the CEC headed by P V Jayakrishnan, said.
“In these circumstances it is recommended… to revoke the permission granted by the (SCNBWL) for doubling of the railway track,” the CEC said.
The railway line passes through the Western Ghats from Tinaighat-Castlerock in Karnataka to Kulem in Goa, involving 120.875 hectare of forest land from the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary (BMWLS) in Goa, 10.45 and 0.88 hectare in Dandeli Wildlife Sanctuary and Haliyal Forest Division respectively in Karnataka.
In 2010, the Ministry of Railways sanctioned the doubling of the existing Hospet-Tinaighat-Vasco railway line of a total length of 342 kilometres. The first phase between Hospet and Tinai ghat involved easier terrain atop the largely flat Deccan plateau and had already been completed. It was the second phase between Tinaighat and Vasco da Gama, involving crossing the steep slopes, raging rivers and the thick forests of the Western Ghats as well as the densely populated areas of coastal Goa, that was contested. The railways maintained there was no alternative to the current alignment passing through the protected area and claimed the existing single railway line was saturated. The authorities had also announced four underpasses to allow for wildlife crossings, which activists dismissed as insufficient.
The CEC in its findings, recorded that the doubling of the existing rail line will not have any positive impact on the gradient and curvature of the new line and it will operate at the same inefficient level as the existing line, made in 1890s.
The CEC also observed that the proposed doubling of the line will pose a serious impediment for the movement of long-ranging animals like tigers and elephants.
“At present the Konkan railway line gives excellent connectivity to Northern and Southern parts of India. The connectivity between Goa and Karnataka is being strengthened/improved by way of 4 laning of NH-4A [between Belgaum and Panaji] along the same route and by the development of a new airport,” the CEC said.
The SC will now decide whether to accept or reject the recommendations in the CEC report. The Goa Foundation has welcomed the findings of the CEC but said they will consult other environmental activist groups before finalising the stance before the top court in the matter.