New Delhi: The hawk-eye exercised by environmentalists and nature lovers on the 1185 metre stretch of the Rs.30,000 crore Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) project that passes through the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) has seen a positive development. In possibly a first, the Railway Ministry (which owns the DFC) will give a one-time sum of Rs.15 Crore to the SGNP to take care of the chain fences that will come up along the stretch where the tracks pass through forest territory.
The chain fences and four underpasses for animal movement across the corridor were among the essentials that environment authorities like the Forest Advisory Committee and the national and state wildlife boards had insisted upon while giving approval to the DFC’s national park sojourn.
The four underpasses – two in the Nagle block of the national park and one each at Shilotar and Sarjamori blocks – will however be maintained by the DFC Corporation itself, said officials.
The other clincher for the project, said officials, was a Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Analysis carried out which showed huge reductions in greenhouse gases in case the DFC, running on electricity rather than the current goods train staple of diesel, came up. For example, it showed that in 2016-17, with the presence of the DFC, carbon dioxide emissions would stand at 1.46 million tons instead of 6.42 million tons if there was no DFC. The figures for 2041-42 stood at 3.83 million tons of carbon dioxide with the DFC and 26.86 million tons of carbon dioxide without it.
As reported earlier, the gamut of environmental nods the DFC’s national park stretch got was completed last week when the Supreme Court approved it.
The Forest Advisory Committee had approved it on December 22, the apex National Board For Wildlife (NBW) on December 12 and the Maharashtra state wildlife board in October last year.
The DFC is the railway’s ‘game changer’ plan and it envisages the running of double-decker heavy haul electric trains that would be able to carry almost 15000 tonnes of freight against the current goods trains that haul 3500 tonnes at speeds of 100 kmph.
The Western Corridor of the project, which runs from JNPT port to Rewari close to Delhi, has been divided into two phases with the JNPT to Vadodara arm, the tougher alignment, being designated as the second phase.
Phase 1 of the Western Corridor, running from Vadodara to Rewari, is in advanced stages of planning.
About Sanjay Gandhi National Park
Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), previously Borivali National Park, is a large protected area in the northern part of suburban Mumbai city in Maharashtra State in India. It encompasses an area of 104 Sq.km (40 sq miles) and is surrounded on three sides by India’s most populous city. It is notable as one of the major national parks existing within a metropolis limit and is one of the most visited parks in the world.
The rich flora and fauna of Sanjay Gandhi National Park attracts more than 2 million visitors every year. Tourists also enjoy visiting the 2400 years old Kanheri caves sculpted out of the rocky cliffs which lie within the park.
The Sanjay Gandhi National Park area has a long written history dating back to the 4th century BC. In ancient India, Sopoara and Kalyan were two ports in the vicinity that traded with ancient civilizations such as Greece and Mesopotamia. The 45 km (28 mi) land route between these two ports was partially through this forest.
The Kanheri Caves in the centre of the park were an important Buddhist learning centre and pilgrimage site sculpted by Buddhist monks between pradyut sakhseria 9th and the 1st centuries BCE. They were chiseled out of a massive basaltic rock outcropping.
The park was named ‘Krishnagiri National Park’ in the pre-independence era. At that time the area of the park was only 20.26 km2 (7.82 sq mi). In 1969, the park was expanded to its present size by acquiring various reserve forest properties adjoining the park. After this, an independent unit of the Forest Department called ‘Borivali National Park Sub-division’ administered the area. Krishnagiri National Park was created in 1974 and later renamed as ‘Borivali National Park’. In 1981, it was re-dedicated as ‘Sanjay Gandhi National Park’ in memory of Sanjay Gandhi, the son of ex Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi, who was killed in an air-crash in 1980.
The park is nestled in the hill ranges to the east of the suburb of Borivali. It occupies most of the northern suburbs. To the west lie the townships of Goregaon, Malad, Kandivali, Borivali and Dahisar. To the east lie the townships of Bhandup and Mulund. To the south lies the Aarey Milk Colony. The northern reaches of this forest lie in Thane city. The park and these areas surrounding it are all part of the Mumbai metropolitan area.
The region is hilly with elevations between 30 m (98 ft) and 480 m (1,570 ft). The Park encompasses two lakes, Vihar Lake and Tulsi Lake, which meet part of the city’s water requirements. The park is said to be the lungs of the city as it purifies much of the air pollution of the city.
Biodiversity: The park is a bustling forest, with an estimated 800 types of mauve. This flower is native to the park and the surrounding regions, including Karnala, the Yeoor hills, Tungareshwar and some parts of Goregaon’s Film City. The park is also home to a small population of leopards.
Flora and fauna
The park is home to a number of endangered species of flora and fauna. The forest area of the Park houses over 1000 plant species, 251 species of migratory, land and water birds, 50,000 species of insects, 40 species of mammals. In addition, the Park also provides shelter to 38 species of reptiles, 9 species of amphibians and also 150 species of butterflies and a large variety of fish.
Flora: Kadamba, teak, karanj, shisam, and species of acacia, ziziphus, euphorbia, flame of the forest, red silk cotton and a number of other varieties of flowers. Karvi or Karvy, a flowering plant that flowers once in seven years, can be found in the Park.
Fauna: The forest cover in the park helps provide the ideal habitat for many wild animals. Chital (or spotted deer), Rhesus Macaque and Bonnet Macaque are some of the wild mammals that can easily be spotted roaming inside the park. Other large mammals found in the park are: Black Naped or Indian Hare, Muntjac (Barking Deer), Porcupine, Asian Palm Civet, Chevrotain (Mouse Deer), Hanuman or Gray Langur, Indian Flying-fox, Sambar Deer and Leopard. One can also spot hyena or four-horned antelope.
Reptiles living here include crocodiles in the Tulsi Lake, pythons, cobras, monitor lizards, Russell’s Vipers, Bamboo Pit Viper and Ceylonese Cat Snakes.
Butterflies: Total 172 species of butterflies has been reported here, of which the spectacular ones are Blue Mormon, the phenomenal artist of camouflage the Blue Oak leaf, the bright jezebels and Large Yellow and White Orange tips, Tigers, Eggflies and Sailers.
Avian-Fauna: Some of the birds one may see in the park are: Jungle Owlets, golden orioles, racket-tailed drongos, minivets, magpies, robins, hornbills, bulbuls, sunbirds, peacock, and woodpeckers. Migratory and local birds such as paradise flycatcher and various species of kingfishers, mynas, drongos, swifts, gulls, egrets, and herons have also been spotted.
Wild tiger: In 2003, pug marks and droppings of a Bengal tiger were found in the park. Although the tiger was never widely seen, it did bring some excitement to city folks as records of tiger being found here are quite old and forgotten now with the last tiger being shot down 80 years earlier in the region. Conservation was also proposed for the interlinking habitat corridors and nearby wilderness areas in the state and upgrade their status as Tiger habitat.
Mass flowering of Karvi: The Karvi shrub, as it is locally called in the Marathi language, sometimes also spelled as Karvy in English, only blooms once in eight years in a mass flowering covering the forest floor in a lavender blush. It grows in abundance in the Western ghats hills near Mumbai including throughout the Sanjay Gandhi National Park as in other parts of its natural range. In Sanjay Gandhi National Park its latest bloomings took place in 2008, and it is scheduled to bloom here again in 2016. Termed by nature enthusiasts as ‘nature’s miracle’ its maximum bloom can be seen on some of the inner paths and trails that lie undisturbed in the park. It survives best on vast slopy expanses on the hillsides with Kanheri caves area of the park being one of the best places to observe large areas of blooms.
In the state of Maharashtra, the mass flowering of Karvi has been observed to occur in Mumbai the same year as in the hill station of Khandala and one year earlier in Bhimashankar and Malshej Ghat, beyond Kalyan. Near Mumbai, the Karvi is also found in Karnala, the Yeoor hills, Tungareshwar and some parts of Goregaon including Film City.
Threats: The park has faced a number of problems similar to those faced by national parks elsewhere in the world, involving conflicts between natural and human interests.
In the early 2000s a road, as proposed, would have cut through the park. Animal Activist Tarun Nayar went to court to halt this project.
The lack of space in Mumbai has pushed residential colonies right up to the park boundary. This boundary is poorly fenced and has often allowed wild animals into human habitations. Slums have mushroomed around the park as well. Corruption among local politicians and Mumbai’s influential builder lobby are commonly seen as responsible for a perceived shrinking of the park.
In June 2004, leopards were responsible for the deaths of 20 humans within the span of a week. This was not the first attack, for the past 10 years, there have been attacks attributed to leopards stalking children and adults outside the park fringes. After an outcry was raised and the situation reached alarming proportions, eight leopards were caught and relocated.
Poaching: Sanjay Gandhi national park has played home to many poachers in the recent years. Usually, leopards are attacked. In many cases these animals had been poisoned, and claws or other valuable body parts were cut off and sold. Poaching could soon wipe out Mumbai’s leopard population.
Fire: During the summer and any time before the monsoon, fires burn in the park, at least one every two weeks. This has resulted in the loss of rare trees and loss of habitat for wild animals. The locals are often suspected of burning the trees on some of the outskirts of the forest to build their homes there.
Tourism: Sanjay Gandhi National Park is said to be one of the most visited National Parks in Asia. According to estimates, around 2 million visitors visit this park annually. Collection at the gates in November 2004 touched INR98 lakh (US$160,000).
The Krishnagiri Upavan is an area of approximately 5.5 km2 (2.12 sq mi) reserved as an easily accessible public recreation zone inside the park. The remaining core area has restricted access. Among the several attractions of the Krishnagiri Upavan is a mini-zoo where visitors can view animals up close. There is a crocodile park where one can easily view different sizes of these reptiles all at one place. The lion and tiger safaris educate and guide visitors through the natural habitats of these animals. A narrow gauge train travels around the tourist zone showcasing parts of the rich biodiversity. There a boating facility where visitors can rent a two person pedal-powered boat for Rs.15 per 15 minute increment at 19°13′46″N and 72°52′8″E. Two watchtowers are available for panoramic views of the park.
Many visitors also travel to the Kanheri Caves, especially on an auspicious day in August. Nature trails and treks are also popular. Rock climbing enthusiasts often come to national park. Many rock faces around the National Park and the Kanheri Caves offer a great opportunity for rock climbers.
Vanrani narrow gauge train: The Park also features a “toy train” that runs on a narrow gauge railway. The toy train Van rani, which means Jungle Queen, ran for around twenty-five years. It was discontinued in 2001 because of the poor condition of the track. The circuitous route covers a 2.5 km (1.55 mi) distance. However in 2004, fresh bids were announced for the repair of the track, which was estimated to cost around Rs 30 lakh (Rs 3 million). The tracks have been repaired and the train is now operational. The fun train ride of about 15 minutes takes you along the foothills of the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial on 190 m (620 ft) Pavilion Hill, traverses a couple of bridges and tunnels and passes over the Deer Park.
Tiger Safari and Lion Safari: Main attractions of the park are a Lion Safari and a Tiger Safari for encouraging Eco-tourism. The Lion safari is a 20 minute ride through a 12 ha (29.65 acres) fenced forest area in one of the park’s green buses.The Park is said to have a total of about 25 lions and lionesses. There are hardly 2 lions which visitors can safely see up close from inside the caged buses. The remaining 23 have been relocated or placed in fenced areas far away from the roads used by the green buses. During visiting hours, some of the resident lions are let out into the enclosure, and can be viewed from the safety of the bus. There are 4 tigers that are kept semi-confined in a 20 ha (49.42 acres) fenced area that is toured by the buses. A 5 m (16.40 ft) high and 2,200 m (7,217.85 ft) long protective fencing surrounds the area. This is done so that all visitors can safely view lions and tigers in their natural habitat. Here the visitors are caged in the bus so the big cats can roam like in the wild. Two other tigers roam in a much larger area. There are many claims that many times these tigers and lions are tranquilized, so that the number of tourists can be increased
The path to Kanheri: There are several public walking trails in the park. The popular Ashok Van trail winds up through thick forest to a dense cluster of Ashoka trees that are a welcome half way resting spot. One can return by Gaumukh trail to an open place of volcanic rock to return to the Kanheri caves. A more ambitious route is the ‘View Point’ trail to the highest point in Mumbai, for a panoramic view of the city and a view of the three lakes of the city – Tulsi, Vihar and Powai Lake. New jungle trails at Sanjay Gandhi National Park allow visitors to see the more unexplored parts of the park. They are the 4 km (2.49 mi) Shilonda Trail, the 5 km (3.11 mi) Malad Trail, and the 6 km (3.73 mi) Yeoor Trail. Trails access cost is Rs.25 per person.
Local conservation NGOs such as the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and World Wide Fund for Nature – India (WWF-India) bring groups of urban residents from Mumbai and elsewhere, sometimes in collaboration with other organizations, for regular guided nature education walks in the nature trails of Sanjay Gandhi National Park and organize special trips when the rare Karvi flowers are in full bloom which only happens once every eight years.
Jain temple: In the forest there is a famous Jain temple called Trimurti. This temple is widely visited by Digambar sect of Jain community. It has three huge idols of lord Adinathh and his two sons, lord Bahubali and lord Bharat. Many Muni maharaj (Jain Saints) do stay here to preach the followers before moving ahead to other city or town.
Kanheri caves: The Kanheri Caves are a protected archaeological site at 19°12′30″N 72°54′23″E. The caves were sculpted by Buddhist residents starting in the 1st century BCE. The area was actually a settlement and once served as inns for travellers. The word Kanheri comes from the Sanskrit word Krishnagiri which means Black Mountain.
Access: The Park entrance is located in the eastern section of Borivali, 0.9 km (0.56 mi) from Borivali station, which is 40 km (25 mi) north of Mumbai Central station, with suburban trains running every 5 minutes. From Borivali station, one can walk or hire an auto rickshaw to reach Sanjay Gandhi National Park. It is well connected with all parts of Mumbai and Maharashtra by road. The Western Express Highway (NH 8) passes by the park entrance. Buses are available on holidays and Sundays from Mumbai to the Park. Also, chartered vehicles can be hired for groups to visit the park. The park can be accessed from eastern side through Yeoor, Thane.
The nearest airport is Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Santa Cruz 18 km (11 mi) from the Park. Nearest railway station is at Borivali, which is connected to Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) and Mumbai Central Railway terminus. Local trains regularly ply between Churchgate and Borivali station.