New Railway tracks through Thol Bird Sanctuary pose threat in eco-sensitive zone

AHMEDABAD: A Gujarat government decision allowing railway tracks within 700 metres of Thol bird sanctuary has ruffled many feathers.

The state forest department has recently approved a proposal to allow tracks for a dedicated freight corridor, a move environment activists say will disturb the safe haven for winged visitors that throng the lake from across the globe.

Officials say the decision is a violation of Supreme Court order and a notification of Union ministry of forests and environment. As per a SC judgment, no new infrastructure projects can be allowed within 10 km of a sanctuary till the state government earmarks an eco-sensitive zone.

The state government has in-principle decided to have an area of 2 km around the sanctuary marked as eco-sensitive zone. Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) Corporation of India has undertaken the project to create additional rail infrastructure to provide an efficient, cost-effective transport system. The DFC will significantly reduce freight costs and with the shifting of freight trains on DFC it would generate line capacity for additional passenger trains.

A member of National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) Prerna Bindra has in her report pointed out that the land use around Thol is changing rapidly with large residential and commercial complexes coming up in the vicinity. Bindra has suggested that eco-sensitive zone under the Environment Protection Act must be demarcated for the sanctuary prior to sanctioning the project.

A study commissioned by NBWL was carried out recently to gauge the nature of threat and disturbance that the project might cause to the birds in Thol. Every year the sanctuary hosts cranes, geese, flamingos, pelicans, egrets, herons, spoonbills, ducks and whistling teals.