NEW DELHI: While the country is hailing the increase in tiger numbers, an Environment Ministry committee has recommended diversion of forest land for a Railways project passing through a key tiger habitat in the Kanha-Pench corridor in Madhya Pradesh, even though it had rejected it twice before.
The project seeks diversion of 75 hectares of forest land in favour of the South East Central Railways for Gondia-Jabalpur gauge conversion project. The Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of MoEF recommended the project with some precautionary measures, while it had earlier rejected the same saying the corridor was one of the most crucial wildlife corridors in Central India and gauge broadening would result in irreversible damage to it. The final call would be taken by Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, but that is just a formality.
The project first came for FAC assessment in 2010 when the Ministry constituted a committee under National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) director Rajesh Gopal. Based on the committee’s recommendation, the FAC rejected the project. It was again rejected in 2013 on the same ground.
The committee had said that Madhya Pradesh had already built a road parallel to the railway line, right within the Pench-Kanha corridor. The Madhya Pradesh government again approached the MoEF in 2014, asking the Ministry to reconsider the project. NTCA was again asked to give their comments on reconsideration of the project by MoEF. The NTCA did a joint inspection with the Railway authorities.
“The proposed project cut across the vital Kanha-Pench corridor. This corridor is essential for the long term survival of the tiger as it permits gene flow in a meta population framework in the Central Indian landscapes. This corridor is already disturbed due o NH7 and other state highways. The proposed gauge conversion entrails severing of this corridor in three parts,” the NTCA said in a joint report. Unconvinced to reject the project for the third time, the FAC this time recommended the project with some conditions ranging from restriction of speed limit in sensitive sections to a cap on train density.