Trains to chug through Rishikesh forest?

देहरादून Dehradun (DDN): Forest department officials here are worried, especially since preliminary survey work has begun for the 125.09 km Rishikesh-Karanprayag rail line. Worth Rs.4295.3 crore, the project includes a three-km stretch through Rishikesh forest range, and could affect 550 animals, including elephants and leopards.

S.P.Subudhi, Director of the Rajaji National Park (RNP), said, “The 18 km Dehradun-Haridwar railway line cutting across the RNP has already been causing casualties of elephants and leopards, not to mention smaller animals.”

Division Forest Officer of Rishikesh Bharat Singh told, “The rumour about moves to shift animals in order to make the Rishikesh-Karanprayag rail project viable is not true, and not possible at all. The Supreme Court is quite sensitive about such issues. Railway authorities will have to get their project cleared from the high powered committee of the SC which has experts on environment and forests. We hope that the issues related to wild animals will be dealt with firmly.”

SM Joshi, Conservator of Forests of the Shivalik Circle said, “The railway authorities are flouting the Forest Conservation Act by not first carrying out modalities related to forest land transfer, and instead going ahead with survey work.”

Dehradun’s Division Forest Officer Sushant Patnaik said, “The central railway department has to provide the state forest department with the blueprint of the proposal regarding the particular alignments of the railway line across Rishikesh forest division. All the efforts will be made to mitigate the detrimental effects.”

Range Officer Ganga Sagar Nautiyal of Rishikesh said officials were saying that a high wire mesh could be erected alongside the tracks to prevent wildlife from coming near trains. “But even the mesh could affect the habitat and movement of animals,” he said.

The proposed rail line will pass through Dehradun, Tehri, Paudi and Chamoli districts, and would have 128 bridges and 81 tunnels. SM Joshi said the tunnels and bridges would mitigate the negative impact of the project on animals.

VS Masali, DGM/Rail Vikas Nigam Ltd allayed the foresters’ fears: “We are doing our best not to propose the railway line in the thick of the Rishikesh forest range, but on the border, toward the city. We have got ready multiple proposals with regard to alignment, and will leave it to the forest department to choose one among them.”