SC panel against rail expansion project in Goa

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PANAJI: In a big win for environmental activists in Goa the Central Empowered Committee constituted by the Supreme Court has said that there is “no justification” for undertaking the doubling of the existing single line railway track between Tinaighat in North Karnataka and the port town of Vasco da Gama in Goa — that cuts across the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats– and recommended that the permissions granted to the project be revoked.

In its report, which was submitted to the Supreme Court , with a copy given to the Goa Foundation, the environmental group that filed the petition, CEC also recommended that the Goa-Tamnar 440KV power line be set up along the alignment of the existing powerline so that fresh forest areas are not intruded into. The four-laning of the existing highway has however, been given the go ahead with additional recommendations that it be constructed as an elevated corridor so that it does not cause harm to wildlife.

The trio of projects was opposed by civil society and environmental activists in Goa who feared that if allowed to go ahead, the projects would irreversibly damage the sensitive and biodiverse ecosystems of the region recognized as one of the world’s top biodiversity hotspots.

“CEC does not find any justification for undertaking a project of this nature which will destroy the fragile ecosystem of the Western Ghats which is an internationally recognised Biodiversity hotspot and also 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 Central Empowered Committee headed by P V Jayakrishnan, said.

“In these circumstances it is recommended… to revoke the permission granted by the Standing Committee of National Board for Wildlife (SC NBWL) for doubling of the railway track,” the CEC said.

The Standing Committee of National Board for Wildlife (SC NBWL) in April last year, in a meeting chaired by Union Minister of Forests Prakash Javadekar, granted its approval for the three projects sparking an uproar in Goa.

The railway line passes through the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats from Tinaighat-Castlerock in Karnataka to Kulem in Goa involving 120.875 ha. of land from the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary (BMWLS) in the State of Goa and 10.45 ha. in the State of Karnataka.

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 and will be operating with all the existing severe limitations on running of trains as that of the existing line railway line that was laid in 1890s when there was no other rail connectivity available to Goa”.

CEC also observed that the railway line cuts across the most important animal corridor in the Western Ghat landscape between Karnataka and Maharashtra through the state of Goa and will be a serious impediment for movement of long ranging animals such as 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 four-laning of NH-4A along the same route and by development of a new airport,” CEC said.

The report will now be filed before the Supreme Court which will then decide whether to accept or reject the recommendations.

The Goa Foundation has welcomed the findings of the CEC, but said that it will deliberate with other environmental activist groups on what the final stance will be when the matter comes up before the Supreme Court.

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