Nagpur: Suresh Prabhu, Minister for Railways, and Prakash Javadekar , minister of state for environment and forests, have been urged to drop the plan to upgrade Akola-Khandwa railway line passing through Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR).
The Indian Railways had finalized upgradation of 174km Khandwa-Akola railway meter gauge section on South Central Railway (SCR). Of this, Amalakhurd-Akot (77.5km) passes through hilly parts of MTR and its estimated cost is Rs.1,454 Crore.
Former National Board of Wildlife member Kishore Rithe has pointed out that if the railways follow the same alignment and gradient, trains will not run beyond 60 kmph, and also won’t connect villages from Akola, Amravati and Buldhana districts. “Considering both the aspects, people in this region and MTR administration had demanded diversion of this line outside forest area to maximize benefits,” Rithe says.
As per present meter gauge alignment, 25km of the line between Amalakhurd and Akot passes through Wan sanctuary. As additional forest land was also required to take up gauge conversion on this stretch, railways team in 2014 had explored an alternate route outside the sanctuary area. This route bypassing the sanctuary had been planned with the help of Regional Remote Sensing Centre, Nagpur. It would entail abandoning 51km of railway line in the existing alignment and construction of new line over about 80km.
Even as clearance from Railway Board was awaited on the proposed diverted alignment between Amalakhurd to Akot, pressure from local MP Sanjay Dhotre led the railways to decide on using the existing alignment and gradient to upgrade this line.
“We feel that this is neither in the interest of the people from three districts nor forest and wildlife. Existing movement of trains has killed many wild animals and reptiles, specially during monsoon and winter season,” he pointed out.
As this is a remote area, there are several incidents this train route being used to transport forest produce and wildlife derivatives illegally from the forests of MTR. This includes illegal trade of medicinal plants and wildlife derivatives like tiger, leopard skins, bones etc. Besides, regular forest fires happen in summer due to the railway traffic through 17.3km of core area.