A proposed 12-km detour of the new Dedicated Freight Corridor passing through the ecologically fragile taluka of Dahanu in Thane district has raised protests from local farmers, including tribals, and also brought into play the role of the statutory body in charge of protecting the area, which is yet to approve the project.

Dahanu taluka was declared eco-fragile by a 1991 government notification, which imposed restrictions on industries. The Supreme Court constituted the Dahanu Taluka Environment Protection Authority (DTEPA) in 1996 to implement environmental norms as specified in the notification. The project authority, the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India Ltd. (DFCCIL), under the Ministry of Railways, did not seek approval from the DTEPA before starting work in 2009. Work on two bridges was stopped in October 2012 after local representations to DTEPA.

In a meeting in February, the DTEPA asked for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of a parallel alignment of the corridor, along the existing railway tracks, instead of the proposed detour.

Railway projects are not covered by the EIA notification but in this case, since the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is financially assisting the project, it was mandatory that all procedures be conducted according to the law of the land. A comprehensive EIA was prepared for the entire western corridor including Dahanu, official sources said.

While a project proposal was submitted to the DTEPA in 2010, the DTEPA in turn asked for detailed plans for the corridor and stressed on the concept of pre-afforestation. It asked for the number of trees that would be cut down and the creation of a deposit for a reforestation plan. A public consultation on the detour was held in 2010 and despite opposition, land acquisition proceedings were completed. Eleven villages would be affected by this detour and 73.7 hectares of land would need to be acquired, officials had said. Of the 837 project-affected people, 366 of them, or 43 per cent, are tribals. Further, 18.97 hectares of forest land and government land spanning 30.49 hectares would be required.

The DFCCIL held a second consultation on a parallel alignment, which also met with opposition from the local people in 2011. It commissioned a study by Pragati Surveyors to examine a parallel alignment, which concluded that it was not an economical or feasible solution. The DFCCIL told the DTEPA that a parallel alignment in Dahanu comes in the way of a proposed railway terminal for passengers for suburban services from Virar to Dahanu, and also cuts through a new goods shed, disrupting freight unloading. It would entail reconstruction of a road overbridge since the existing one was not high enough and displaced families near the tracks. The DFCCIL said there was a large number of people opposed to the parallel alignment, whereas only three objections were received for the detour option at the consultation.

Land is acquired under a special Railway Amendment Act (RAA) and the DFCCIL has finalised the award with cash compensation in the range of Rs. 15.5 lakh to Rs. 80 lakh per hectare for agricultural land and Rs. 1.5 crore to Rs. 3.5 crore per hectare for non-agricultural land, plus increased solatium of 60 per cent and other add-ons under the RAA and rehabilitation policy.

However, 10 gram panchayats have passed resolutions opposing the project last month. Bharat Kanhat, sarpanch of Vaki, one of the tribal villages through which the proposed detour will pass, said all the people in his village were opposed to the project. “Where will people buy land with the money they are giving us?” he asked. He said few people went for the public consultation and no one really had a clear idea of the project till very recently.

Mihir Shah, president of the Dahanu municipal council, told The Hindu that the problem arose because the DFCCIL opted for a detour around Dahanu instead of constructing a parallel freight line. Mr. Shah got a railway expert and told the DTEPA that it was possible to build the corridor parallel to the existing tracks using railway land. The project has violated a Supreme Court order that land use in Dahanu cannot be changed without DTEPA approval, said Debi Goenka, executive trustee of the Conservation Action Trust (CAT). He said the DFCCIL had cut mangroves during construction of the bridges, violating a 2005 Bombay High Court order, which does not permit construction within 50 metres of mangroves. He described the EIA by the DFCCIL as a bad joke since it did not fit into Indian standards and there was no comparative analysis of a parallel alignment and a 12-km detour in Dahanu. The objections raised by the DFCCIL could be easily dealt with, he felt.

The public consultation was not widely advertised and the EIA report, which gave Dahanu cursory treatment, was not circulated and most affected people were unaware, Mr. Goenka said, adding that change of land use was not permitted under the Maharashtra Regional and Town Planning (MRTP) Act unless due process of notice and inviting objections was conducted. The numbers of those affected by land fragmentation due to the corridor could be much more, he said.

The proposed Western freight corridor begins at the Jawaharlal Nehru Port near Mumbai to Revari near Delhi and the Eastern one will run from Ludhiana to Dankuni near Kolkata. The 3,300-km project, at a cost of Rs. 80,000 crore, is expected to be completed by 2017. However, the western corridor in the Ahmedabad section is held up in litigation since people resisted a minor change in the detour and the matter is sub judice. Dahanu seems headed the same way unless there is proper compliance of existing norms.

  • Eleven villages, 837 people will be affected by the 12-km detour
  • Under MRTP Act, change of land use not permitted without due notice to locals

Project authority should have constructed a parallel line along railway tracks, says municipal official