MoEFCC Panel wants Under-passes at every 500m on Wadsa-Gadchiroli Rail Line

NGAPUR: The regional empowered committee (REC) of the MoEFCC has recommended underpasses at every 500 metres in forest patches between the proposed Wadsa-Gadchiroli railway line which needs diversion of 83 hectares land.

“We recommended additional box culverts or underpasses at every 500 metres inside the forest need to be constructed as per the design approved by Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, for wildlife movement,” said REC member Suresh Chopne. The minutes of the REC meeting were released recently.

The South East Central Railway (SECR), Nagpur, is executing the Rs800 crore project to construct new 52.86km broad gauge line between Wadsa-Gadchiroli ostensibly to transport iron ore and minerals from Gadchiroli and Chhattisgarh in the future. The project is being implemented on PPP basis and Maharashtra government has agreed to share 50% cost.

Though the REC has given in-principle approval to the project, there are hiccups over taking mitigation measures. Of the 83 hectares dense forest, some 4km passes through tiger-bearing areas.

Chopne said the REC decided working permission will be granted only after funds for taking up mitigation measures as suggested by the committee of WII and NTCA are deposited by the user agency.

Among the other recommended mitigation steps include maximum speed of trains while approaching and passing through forest area shall be 40 kmph during night and 50 kmph during day time. “We have also asked the SECR to remove two stations from forest patches which will bring down the proposed forest diversion area,” he said.

However, senior SECR officials said the REC itself has desired that a study will be carried out by a joint team of WII and NTCA to suggest mitigation measures. The suggestion of WII-NTCA will be binding on SECR. The forest department is coordinating the joint inspection schedule.

“We are ready to take mitigation measures and increase the span of bridges. We are also not averse to 500 metre underpasses in forested patches but many odd conditions are being put forward. If REC or WII-NTCA is not satisfied by our mitigation steps and proposes to go for elevated viaduct on piers it will lead to cost escalation making the project infeasible,” SECR officials said.

Based on REC suggestion, a one-man NTCA team consisting of Hemant Kamdi from regional office here had already conducted a site visit on January 22, 2019 and observed that mitigation measures should be taken as per the WII guidelines on ‘Eco-friendly measures to mitigate impacts of linear infrastructure on wildlife’ approved by the MoEFCC.

According to forest sources, the NTCA team suggested transplantation of trees instead of felling, underpasses for reptile species, besides 5% of the project cost to mitigate negative impact of the project and forming monitoring committee to oversee whether mitigation steps are as per WII green infrastructure guidelines.

As per WII’s eco-friendly mitigation guideline document the user agencies need to follow hierarchy of mitigation steps where avoidance is the best option. It also suggests considering not only engineering aspects like underpasses but speed and traffic control and integrate options of light and sound barriers, camouflaging and landscaping.Wadsa deputy conservator (DyCF) Niranjan Vivrekar said, “We have sought undertakings from the railways on mitigation steps and other set of conditions. Once we receive it the proposal will be forwarded to PCCF office.”

WII GUIDELINES SAY …

Follow hierarchy of mitigation measures given in the guidelines where avoidance is best option

  • Consider not only engineering option like underpasses but regulatory mechanism like speed and traffic control
  • Follow design, dimension for large carnivore and herbivore and as per the available corridor patch size. Thumb rule is of 5 metres clear height and 300m/km span coverage
  • Integrate options for movement of reptiles, birds and arboreal mammals
  • Integrate options of light and sound barriers, camouflaging, landscaping.
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