The State Board for Wildlife (SBWL) in Maharashtra on Tuesday set up a three-member committee to suggest mitigation measures for the 4.5-km elevated carriageway along the Thane-Ghodbunder Road, which requires 8.8 hectares of forest land from the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP).
Ghodbunder Road is one of the major thoroughfares leading out of Thane city and connecting the Eastern Express Highway on one end and the Western Express Highway on the other. The 4.5 km elevated road has been proposed by the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC).
The road development corporation has also proposed expansion of the existing road from Gaimukh to Thane. As per the proposal, 2009 trees from SGNP will have to be felled for the construction and expansion of the roads.
The committee – comprising Bilal Habib from the Wildlife Institute of India, Anish Andheria from the Wildlife Conservation Trust and Virendra Tiwari, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (APCCF) Mangrove Cell – has been set up to study the project, carry out site inspections and suggest mitigation measures for the approval of the road projects.
The Rs 667-crore projects had received approval from the state government in 2018. The MSRDC needs clearance from the state Wildlife Board and the Forest Department to construct inside the SGNP area.
The four-lane elevated road has been proposed to decongest Ghodbunder Road, which cannot be widened further. With four lanes elevated and four lanes of the existing road, it will become an eight-lane stretch. While heavy vehicles will continue to use the lower road, smaller vehicles can zip across the elevated road.
This road carries a significant load of the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust-bound traffic to and from Gujarat. A stretch of the road abuts SGNP and the Vasai creek.
Environmentalists oppose the project as it stands to disturb the wildlife. SGNP has one of the highest densities of leopards in any urban forest.
The forest department has already put 26 conditions including mitigation measures such as large box culverts, animal underpass and compensatory afforestation to clear the way for an elevated corridor, which will also be studied by the committee.
The forest department also decided to invoke a penal afforestation clause under the Forest Conservation Act after it came to light that three decades ago, Ghodbunder Road was widened using land from SGNP without its nod. The department has sought a penalty of 1 per cent of the project cost from the MSRDC.