NAGPUR: Three days after publishing a report on adverse effects of proposed broad gauge conversion of Khandwa to Akola railway line through lush green Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR), a social worker knocked judiciary’s praying for staying the project.
A division bench comprising justices Bhushan Dharmadhikari and Zaka Haq issued notices to the respondents, including Union Ministry for Environment, forest and Climate change (MOEFCC), asking them to reply within two weeks. Union Railway Ministry secretary, South Central Railway’s general manager, and state revenue secretary are other respondents in the PIL, filed by city resident Pramod Junghare through counsel Ashwin Ingole.
Citing a report by National Tiger Conservation Authority’s (NTCA) working group submitted in January, it had reported that the railway route shouldn’t be moved from the MTR and alternative one should be explored.
The report mentioned that railways wasn’t keen to construct an alternate route as it was longer by 29.37 km and it had to lay a 6.65.km single tunnel near Kunverdev village, which will cost Rs.556 crore. It further questioned railways stating that when it could dig tunnels in most difficult Pir Panjal (J&K) range and Konkan, why it was reluctant in MTR’s case, considering the threats to wild animals habitat.
The report was bypassed by highways minister Nitin Gadkari and railway minister Piyush Goyal to upgrade line based on an favourable opinion from the Attorney General of India (AGI).
The petitioner contended that MTR provides crucial connectivity with other tiger habitats and if the broad gauge conversation is allowed through buffer zone, it will risk the animals, including tigers being run over by trains. There is also chance that poachers may use the railway line to hunt the animals like happened in Dhakna tiger poaching case in 2013. Therefore, one of the respondents had proposed an alternate route by-passing the reserve.
Junghare further pointed out that railway line expansion, which would passed through buffer zone, would be violation of the Forest Conservation Act and Wild Life Protection Act and therefore, it should be declared as illegal.