Ministries at loggerheads over green clearance to Akola-Khandwa gauge conversion in forest areas

NEW DELHI: The Union Ministries of Environment and Railways are at loggerheads over green clearance for railway land. The Ministry of Environment and Forests has dismissed the contention of Ministry of Railways, which had sought exemption from environmental clearances for railway projects citing authority under the Railways Act, 1989.

The issue came up during the gauge conversion of Akola-Khandwa railway line. The railway ministry wrote to environment ministry that the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, and the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, would not be applicable in this case as land falls in the Right of Way (ROW) of the railway under the Railways Act.

The land being sought by the railways for the Akola-Khandwa line passes through the Reserved Forest and Melghat Tiger Reserve, which is among the first nine tiger reserves notified in 1973-74 under Project Tiger.

However, the environment ministry has, after consultations with the ministry of law and justice, clarified that even in the case of land falling in ROW of railways, environmental clearance will be required.

“The use of forest land, irrespective of ownership, by the railways for the construction of new railway tracks and other facilities and for gauge conversion of existing railways requiring fresh diversion of forest land on either side of the existing meter gauge, as assessed by the state forest department, falling in the ROW of railways, will require forest clearance under the provisions of Forest Conservation Act,” said the order issued by the environment ministry.

The directions issued to principal secretary (forests) of all states on December 5 says the railway ministry had raised the matter regarding applicability of both the Acts on several occasions and insisted that they will not be applicable as railway has the power to acquire the forest land and divert the forest land.

“The matter has been examined in the ministry and the legal opinion of the Ministry of Law and Justice was also obtained on the applicability of the Forest Conservation Act on the use of forest land falling in the ROW of the Railways for the construction work,” the order said.

“The law ministry replied that though the railway administration has the power under the Railway Act of 1989, to construct or maintain a railway on any land, but it appears that for assignment of forest land (other than the railways land) falling in the ROW to the railways by way of lease of otherwise may attract the provisions of the Forest Act,” it further said.

The environment ministry is of the opinion that railway projects passing through wildlife sanctuaries, national parks and tiger reserves amount to destruction of habitat and are required to seek approval as per a Supreme Court order of 2002.

Citing law to stand their grounds

Railway Ministry says Railways Act, 1989, gives it the authority to acquire land falling in the right of way of the railways

Environment Ministry says the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, and the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, makes it mandatory to seek approval for transfer of forest land for construction.