“hasty and illegal” – a PROTEST against wildlife activists which goes ahead granted to the metro-to-board gauge conversion of a 29-km stretch of a railway track which passes through the ” core and critical tiger habitat” of MTR(Melghat Tiger Reserve) has brought many types of questions regarding the projects which were unanswered.

There was the argument by activists regarding the board gauging which will lead to increase the frequency of trains running at higher speeds and carrying passengers at multiple times the current numbers and will eventually affect the sanctity of the tiger reserve and affect the conservation.

In the south central railway (SC Rly) Nanded division the only stretch remaining is meter gauge section. The divisional railway manager Tikalagya Rabha, according to him it indulges about 3,000 passengers in eight to-and-fros of four trains, two all from Mhow in Madhya Pradesh and Akola in Maharashtra to Khandwa. Between  Akot in Akola locality to Amla (Khurd) on the border of MTR and is the section which is around the 29-km track yet to be broad-gauged. Casually, the track outranks MTR, which came into the eyes in the year 1973 as one of the first lots of tiger reserves in the country under then the project tiger.

The demand was to shift the track out of the reserve has been an old one, the stream was combined over the past three years after the formation of the new government at the center fasten the process of initiating broad gauging work. Over the past few days as the work got to the underway due to which Wildlife activists have heightened their campaign. The notices were given to them. Ministry for Environment, Fores, and Climate Change, Union Railway Ministry and Maharashtra Revenue Department pursuing their replies to the petition by one Pramod Junghare On Wednesday, issuing by the Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court and a PIL were admitted.

The Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) and cited an opposed by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) in the strangling of the work, the DRM Rabha claims that the work in advance after winning all essential clearances, activists have alleged bypassing of provisions.

“Earlier, the railways itself was contemplating an alternative route that bypasses MTR for their own concerns like achieving higher speed, which is not possible in its current position in the mountainous terrain, and lesser population being catered to on the existing track. A report to this effect by the General Manager of SC railway is available. Instead of following the council by its own officer, the railways are preferring to go the wrong way. What is highly objectionable is that this is being done without statutory clearances from the State Board for Wildlife (SBWL) and the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL),” Kishore Rithe, a former member of the NBWL and wildlife activist, said.

Shri Bhagwan had accordingly managed a study as per SBWL directive and had submitted a report in May 2016, Rithe and former principal chief conservator of forest(wildlife).  the auction of alternative route bypassing MTR must be fully explored first or, otherwise, mitigation measures for protecting wildlife must be put in place stated by them. they included no station on the MTR section of the track, every stoppage by chain pulling in the two existing tunnels be treated as attempt to commit wildlife crimes, restricting the speed to 60 kmph, warning to passengers not to throw litter along the track, no lifting of water by railways from the Wan sanctuary, which is part of MTR and provision of adequate wildlife passes based on scientific data on wildlife movement, among a few other suggestions that were among the mitigation.

However, Rithe said, “Since the existing track has itself caused a hindrance to wildlife, leading to several deaths and has also been used by wildlife criminals and forest produce thieves, broad gauging will only add to the problem. Therefore, a new alignment outside MTR is the more viable option. It is so also for the reason of public utility since there are no villages inside the core area of MTR after the rehabilitation work done by the Forest Department over the past few years. The new alignment will actually serve greater populations.”

At least two MLAs, Harshwardhan Sapkal of the Congress from Buldana and Sanjay Kute of the BJP from Akot have come out in support of the demand to change the route for reasons cited by Rithe.

Even the NTCA has opposed the conversion in its 2015 report saying, “Alternative route must be explored as the inviolate space could be disturbed by the project. It will have serious long-term consequences for tiger conservation.”

PCCF (wildlife) A K Mishra said, “I have nothing to say now that the matter has passed through several stages before coming to its current status.”

Rabha said, “We are only following public demand. All the steps necessary to be taken, have been taken.” Asked why the railway is not contemplating the alternative route, Rabha said, “The Akola-Khandwa section of 175 km is already catering to 16 stations. And as far as problems caused to wildlife are concerned, the MTR has much less wildlife population compared to some reserves in the north-east, where also broad gauge trains run with even greater frequency.”

Rabha said, “As of now, there is no proposal for increased frequency of trains but it cannot be ruled out in future.” “That precisely is why the current plan must be shelved,” added Rithe.





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