HC approval for JNPT-Rewari route realignment & removal of Mangroves in Dahanu, clears the decks for DFC project

Mumbai: The Bombay high court’s approval of the alignment of the JNPT-Rewari Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC), including the removal of 543 mangroves in Dahanu taluka, earlier this week has finally cleared the decks for the project. Long touted as the railways’s game-changer, it is expected to be in line for a 2019 completion. The last of the nods now required is that of the Dahanu Taluka Environment Protection Authority (DTEPA) for replacement of the 543 mangroves. According to the rules, the DFC will need to plant 10 mangroves for every one that will be removed.

The road ahead

According to DFC officials, the toughest part of the alignment is the JNPT to Dahanu stretch, thanks to the technical difficulties as well as environment challenges, such as the SGNP and mangroves along the Dahanu coast. With the clearances coming in, officials believe the work on the JNPT-Vaitarna stretch should begin by next year. After the monsoon this year, work on the Vaitarna-Vadodara stretch will begin.  Chief Project Manager, DFC, AK Rai said, “If everything goes according to plan, we should be able to complete the entire corridor by 2019. We are ensuring that the environmental standards are maintained during the construction phase.”

The slow land process in state

The one thing that Maharashtra is lagging behind in when compared to Gujarat and Rajasthan, through which the alignment passes, is the slow pace of land acquisition procedures. The DFC requires around 280 hectares of privately-owned land in Maharashtra. “Just about 80% of land acquisition has been completed. The process of disbursal of compensation is currently on. 2014 was a very slow year in this regard,” said an official.

The culprit has been the seven to eight months the state lost because of the Lok Sabha and assembly elections in May and October, respectively. “The land procedures have to be initiated by the collector’s office and, in case of elections, the entire responsibility lies with the collector’s office, which means other work, like land acquisition, compensation etc, gets hampered,” said the official.

How the DFC will change the railways’ freight fortunes

One of the four goals of the railways in the next five years is to take its freight loading from the current 1 billion tonnes to 1.5 billion tonnes, a rise of 50%. The DFC is expected to carry the extra freight that will come out of the JNPT port once it expands its capacity by 2018. Then, it will also allow Central Railway to carry more freight on its lines and allow the freight trains to move onto the DFC lines at Kharbao on the Vasai-Diva line. Currently, CR is taking a pounding because of falling container traffic owing to congestion on its lines.

CR’s overall container loading per day from all sources has gone down from 776 per day in 2011-12 to around 636 for the current financial year till January. CR’s overall freight handling has been going down. In 2012-13, CR handled 56.54 million tonnes of freight, which came down to 55.47 million tonnes by 2013-14, and till January this year, the freight handled stood at 46.03 million tonnes.

Environment clearances DFC has got

Wildlife Clearance under Wildlife Protection Act, 1972: This includes the 1,185 metres of the alignment running within Sanjay Gandhi National Park as well as diversion of 8.05 hectares of forest land falling within SGNP for construction of the DFC. The clearance made it mandatory for the DFC to build four animal passes to facilitate the safe passage of wildlife on either side of the rail line.

Clearance under Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980: It includes first-stage clearance for diversion of 58 hectares of forest land for the DFC. Compliance letter by DFC submitted to the forest department on July 28, 2014.

Clearance under Coastal Regulatory Zone (CRZ), 2011: Clearance obtained on November 17, 2014, for the alignment with conditions that conservation measures would be adopted, which include no disposal of waster or debris in CRZ area. It also mandates that there will be no impact on mangroves or aquatic life during the construction of the DFC.

Number Game

The freight DFC (Eastern) is expected to move annually once operational

75.6 million tonnes (MT): Total freight

54.46 MT: Coal for powerhouses

8.24 MT: Steel

The freight DFC (Western) is expected to move annually once operational

3.80: Containers in million TEUs

10.90 MT: Freight excluding containers.