Union Cabinet Secretary’s intervention is sought to remove the hurdles posed by Environment Ministry in Gevra Road-Pendra Road rail link project in Chhattisgarh.
Indian Railways has sought Cabinet Secretary’s intervention to remove the hurdles posed by the Environment Ministry in the ambitious 135 km long Gevra Road-Pendra Road rail link project in Chhattisgarh.
The railways is executing a double line rail project between Gevra Road and Pendra Road in Chhattisgarh through a SPV (special purpose vehicle).
The Rs 8,000 crore project is crucial for evacuating increased quantities of coal from high-yielding open-cast mines of its Chhattisgarh-based subsidiary South Eastern Coalfields (SECL).
Besides coal evacuation, the rail link is also being considered important for the development of backward and unconnected areas of Chhattisgarh.
Initially, chief conservator of Bilaspur had recommended eight underpass/overpasses of 25 metre to 50 metre length with 7 metre height across the proposed line to facilitate movement of elephants.
However, the Environment Ministry while giving forest clearance has stipulated that underpasses of 300 metre should be constructed at 22 locations.
Implementation of these recommendations will have adverse repercussion on project timelines due to acquisition of additional 12 hectares of forest land and cutting of about 5,000 trees and redesigning of alignment in about 70 km length, the railways has maintained.
Seeking reduction of width of elephant underpasses and overpasses to 50 metre for smooth movement of wildlife, the railways has written to Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba to sort out the issue.
Considering the importance of this project, the railways has requested Gauba to “advise the Environment Ministry and other agencies concerned to review it and explore the possibility of reducing the requirement of underpasses/overpasses and other mitigation measures so that impact on the project schedule is minimised.”
The railways has pointed out that after a site visit by a team from Wildlife Institute of India (WII), National Tiger Conservation Authority and Chief Wildlife Warden of Chattisgarh, it recommended a detailed site inspection by WII team.
WII team inspected the site and has recommended increase in number of underpasses/overpasses with spans ranging from 100 to 300 metres to locations, which has been subsequently reduced to 22 locations after several rounds of discussions amongst all stakeholders including IRCON, PCCF, WII and NTCA.
The project being of national importance is being monitored at the apex level and was recently reviewed in the Pragati meeting chaired by the Prime Minister.
Based on the latest recommendations following serious technical issues have come up which will seriously affect the execution of the project and may in fact lead to further damage to forest and the wildlife.
The railways maintains that since all the plan and detailed drawings have already been finalised, addition of new underpasses or overpasses will lead to complete modifications in approved drawings.
Since the Prime Minister has given the target date for completion as September 2023, the proposed changes will adversely delay the completion of the project, the railways maintained.
As land has been acquired based on earlier designs, the introduction of seven-metre high elephant underpass may require acquisition of additional 70 hectares of forest land as well as cutting of approximately 3,000 trees.
Acquiring additional forest land is likely to be a time consuming activity and may actually not be in the interest of wildlife and environment. Similarly, providing ramps in approaches to overpasses will also involve acquisition of forest land and tree cutting, the letter to Gauba stated.
Besides construction of guide walls of 200 metre length in each bridge which will again lead to acquisition of about 50 hectares of forest land as well as cutting of nearly 2,000 trees.
“These consequences can be minimised to some extent, if spans of underpasses/overpasses are kept up to 50 metre with proper guiding walls for smooth movement of wildlife as it is technically very difficult to construct several level bridges upto 300 metre length in the existing topography,” the letter stated.
The railways has highlighted that the insertion of such a large number of long underpasses and overpasses into the railway line will abnormally delay the project in addition to causing greater damage to the environment due to the additional forest land acquisition.
The national transporter has requested Gauba to advise the Environment Ministry and other agencies concerned to review the report and explore the possibility of reducing the requirement of underpasses and overpasses and other mitigation measures so that the impact on the project schedule and damage to the environment is minimised.