NEW DELHI: With nearly 30 key rail projects over Rs 50,000 crore still stuck for want of forest clearance, Ministry of Railways has approached the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to relax green norms for rail projects related to gauge conversion and doubling and tripling of railway line to decongest busy routes.
Railways has written to the environment ministry that conversion of meter gauge to broad gauge and doubling and tripling of existing rail tracks are important to decongest traffic on busy routes. Moreover, these will be done on the railway land and would be expansion of the existing ones.
“We have approached environment ministry seeking relaxation of norms for certain priority projects stuck for long time pending forest clearance. We are yet to hear from them but hopeful of a positive response,” said Member Engineering Railway Board V K Gupta.
According to railways, there should not be any need to seek forest clearance again for these projects as the procedure was followed when they were constructed and now it just that they are being expanded and that too on land owned by railways.
“We don’t require acquiring forest land afresh but will do the work on the existing land. Why should we again seek forest clearance which delays projects for long? There is no damage that these projects would cause to environment and neither are we acquiring forest land for non-forest purpose,” said another railway official.
Nearly 40 projects were stuck for green clearance but in last one year 11 have been cleared. Among the pending, some are strategic and have already missed deadlines. These include Sivok-Rangpo New Line in West Bengal and Sikkim is stuck as 8.85 hectare of it passes through Mahananda Wild Life Sanctuary, New Moynaguri-Jogighopa New Line requires acquisition of forest land and Angalmali-Sabarimala New Line is stuck as forest department did not allow railways to pass through tiger reserve.
“We do understand that green procedures need to be followed for new line projects but for expansion these should be relaxed,” added official.
Rail line doubling projects stuck with MoEF include Guna-Ruthiyai in Madhya Pradesh, Macherla-Mandamari in Andhra Pradesh, Jharsuguda-Rengali in Odisha and Salka Road-Annupur in Chhattisgarh. Projects needing gauge conversion include Ratlam-Khandwa-Akola Gauge conversion in Maharashtra, Gondia-Jabalpur in Chhattisgarh and Chhindwara-Nainpur-Mandla Fort.
The focus of railways is on completing pending projects and Rail Minister Suresh Prabhu refrained from announcing any new projects but 77 projects for doubling and tripling and gauge conversion to augment rail infrastructure.