The Gujarat High Court has sought a reply from the Centre, state government and the Ministry of Railways on an application filed by the amicus curiae in a suo motu petition of 2018 that upheld the objections to gauge conversion and electrification of a track running through the Gir forest.
The application, highlighting the State Wildlife Board’s decision to transfer 150 hectares land in Gir forest to the Railways for installation of a broad-gauge line and electrification of tracks, was taken up by a division bench Tuesday. It is expected to be heard on December 22 again.
Relying on news reports, amicus curiae Hemang Shah, who has been representing the high court in an existing suo motu public interest litigation (PIL) of 2018 on the preservation of the Gir sanctuary’s ecosystem for the Asiatic lions, filed the fresh application.
The application notes that a member of the State Wildlife Board had objected to the installation of the broad-gauge rail track as it would result in trains running “at 50 kmph and more which could run over the lions” in the forest. The application has also opposed the state government’s decision to install gas and oil pipelines stating these “are also dangerous and need to be cancelled” as these may result in gas leakage and forest fires.
The application notes that while a broad-gauge railway line would be in the interest of the public at large “but cannot have precedence over the Asiatic lions, covered under the list of endangered species. Moreover, the number of people using the line would be minuscule”. The rail track in question runs from Kodinar to Veraval and is currently a meter-gauge line.
Acting on a report published in The Indian Express on October 17, which stated that five persons had been detained for harassing Asiatic lions at the reserved forest, the application also sought that it would be prudent to “issue appropriate directions to fast track such kind of cases where people enter the forest area without permission so as to harass the endangered species,” while highlighting that the prime accused in the specific case was absconding.
The amicus curiae sought an order to cancel the land allotment in the Gir sanctuary for other projects, such as laying of pipelines for gas, oil and optical fibre, and further to issue directions to the state government and the State Wildlife Board to not allot or divert land to the Railways.
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