New Delhi: The Modi government’s much-touted Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project, funded by a loan from the Japan government, has received a wildlife clearance to encroach on a flamingo sanctuary and the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai.
According to a report in The Hindu, a committee chaired by Union environment minister Harsh Vardhan cleared a proposal that diverts 3.2756 hectares of forest land from the Thane Creek Flamingo Wildlife Sanctuary, and 97.5189 hectares of land close to the protected forest area’s boundary.
“Apart from the creek, the proposal also involves diverting 32.75 ha of forestland and 77.30 ha of non-forestland from Sanjay Gandhi National Park and from 0.6902 ha of forestland and 4.7567 ha of non-forest land from Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary,” the newspaper reported.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the project in September 2017, and the bullet train was supposed to be ready by 2022. However, a series of delays – many related to protests over land acquisition for the project – have meant that the Indian Railways is unlikely to meet this target.
A person present at the January 10 meeting told The Hindu that the forest clearance wasn’t listed on the agenda for the day. “In some cases, a file can come in through the intervention of the chair [in this case, Harsh Vardhan]. This was one of those projects.”
While granting these clearances, according to The Hindu, the National Board of Wildlife has put in place certain preconditions for the bullet train project. The project has to pay Rs 10 crore for habitat improvement at the sanctuary, build barricades such that debris does not fall outside the project area and provide funds to ensure that at least five times as many mangroves plants that are anticipated to be destroyed by the project can be planted.
“During construction and operation of the project, due care shall be taken to prevent any disturbance to wildlife movement or other adverse environment impacts,” the Board said, according to the Hindustan Times. The Board also said that two wildlife corridors would have to be built for the leopards, wild boar, chital and sambar deer that use project area.
The 508-km bullet train project is supposed to have a 155.64 km stretch in Maharashtra.
Environmental activists have protested against the project in the past, alleging that 80,000 trees will have to be cut to make way for the tracks. The National Alliance of People’s Movements brought out a report saying that there were gaping holes in the feasibility study of the Mumbai Ahmedabad High Speed Rail, and that the project could have serious detrimental effects on the environment and people’s health.
On the land acquisition front, the project has been facing snags on multiple part of the route. In October 2018, 40 petitions were filed against the project in the Gujarat high court, with farmers alleging that the process was not above board. In addition, the Godrej Group has moved the Bombay high court to stop the Centre’s plan to acquire its Vikhroli property, valued at over Rs 500 crore.