Vidarbha Chamber of Commerce & Industry asks Rail Minister to reconsider Akot-Khandwa GC works

NAGPUR: After wildlife conservationists, the Vidarbha Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) has opposed the railway ministry’s move to broaden the metre gauge Akot-Khandwa line that passes through the bio-diversity-rich Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR) in Amravati district.

The railways has taken up work on Akola-Khandwa (176km) gauge conversion work between the vulnerable section of Akot-Amlakhurd railway stations under the South Central Railway (SCR). It involves diversion of 161 hectare forest area of Wan Tiger Sanctuary and cuts the reserve towards the southern tip.

The Akola-based body of traders has urged railway minister Suresh Prabhu that though the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) has approved the mega project, railways will have to spend huge money on mitigation measures and will also have to pay Rs350 crore to the forest department towards relocation of villages.

Of the 176km railway line, over 38km passes through wildlife rich area of tiger reserve and buffer zone. Yet, upgradation was recommended as there was tremendous pressure from the MoEFCC to clear the project at any cost.

The VCCI letter signed on May 19 by Ashok Kumar Dalmiya, the national secretary of Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), Delhi, and VCCI president Vijay Panpaliya says alternative route, which does not pass through the tiger reserve should be used.

The traders’ body said due to non-receipt of forest clearance, in 2009-2015, railways had conducted a survey for alternative route which does not pass through tiger reserve and its buffer. If the alternative route is taken up, the length of the railway line increases by just 29km. The VCCI has also enclosed the survey map to Prabhu.

The gauge conversion of the metre gauge line is pending for a decade. The standing committee of NBWL cleared the proposal to divert 161 hectare forest land to widen the railway line in its 40th meeting held in Delhi on January 3, 2017.

However, the VCCI has suggested that if railways decides to construct the line through new route all measures, such as restriction of speed and future doubling of the line, will be done on the new route.

Besides, the new route will also bring important towns like Hiwarkhed, Telhara, Sonala, Jalgaon Jamod on the railway map and benefit large number of farmers.

“On the contrary, construction of the railway line through the tiger reserve and its buffer zone will need relocation of villages. Hence, the railways should construct the new line on the revised route as per survey done so that trains speed is maintained and there is scope for future development like doubling of line,” says VCCI.

Earlier, ex-member of NBWL Standing Committee Kishor Rithe, who was member of the joint inspection panel of the project, too had suggested an alternate alignment.

Later, Rithe in his representation to Prabhu on June 9, last had said that work between Amalakhurd-Akot (77.5km) passes through hilly part of MTR.

“If the railways follow the same alignment and gradient, it will not allow to attain the speed more than 60 kmph and also won’t connect maximum villages from Akola-Amravati and Buldhana districts. Considering both the aspects, people in this region as well as MTR administration had demanded diversion of this line through plain area to maximize benefits,” Rithe said.