The never-coming environmental clearance

May 28, 2017 12:00 am | Updated 04:00 am IST - KOZHIKODE

Regulations for forest clearance through Protected Areas prohibit rail lines through wildlife sanctuaries

Elephant herds at N Begur in Karnataka. The proposed rail line passes through such forested areas and wildlife sanctuaries.

Elephant herds at N Begur in Karnataka. The proposed rail line passes through such forested areas and wildlife sanctuaries.

The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Wildlife has been silent on the two railway proposals, Thalassery- Mysuru and Nilambur-Nanjangund routes so far.

But many serving and retired officers think that the Forest Conservation Act promulgated in 1980 has been stringent when it comes to implementing rail line projects.

Protected areas

The recent regulations for forest clearance through Protected Areas (PA) emphatically prohibit development works like rail lines through wildlife sanctuaries, tiger projects and national parks.

Since the proposed rail line from Thalassery to Mysuru passes through the Bramhagiri Wildlife Sanctuary of Karnataka, the chance for getting environment clearance to this project could be remote. The proposed Nilambur-Nanjangund rail route also will face the same fate since the line passes through ecologically sensitive zone of Bandipur Tiger Reserve.

The restrictions and prohibitions on non-forestry activities differ in reserve forests, sanctuaries and tiger reserves. As per a notification by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, issued on October 4, 2012, railway projects and underground pipelines are included in the category of prohibited works in the Bandipur Tiger Reserve.

Mangrove forests

In the case of the Thalassery-Mysuru rail line, expansion of Thalassery railway station is not possible without destroying and reclaiming the pristine mangrove forests of the region which is the only remaining abode for migratory water birds and aquatic fauna in the locality.

Even if clearance is given by the MoEF, the matter will be mired in the labyrinth of legal procedures at the National Green Tribunal, National Board for Wildlife, Central Empowered Committee and finally the Supreme Court of India.

Underground rail

To seek environment clearance, the DMRC may propose underground rail through the Ecologically Sensitive Zone (ESZ) area of Karnataka.

Since railway works are prohibited items according to the notification of the Bandipur ESZ, the MoEF may not clear this project through either Bandipur or Nagerhole or even through the ESZ between these two PAs and reserved forests in 20 km in Kerala.

The procedures for environmental clearance will be similar in the case of the Nilambur-Nanjangud rail line as well since it passes through the wildlife sanctuaries in Kerala and the tiger reserve in Karnataka.

Even if Railways place the proposal of constructing tube rails underneath the Protected Areas, the present guidelines prohibit any work of rail line through this area.

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