Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Wednesday wrote to the Union government requesting that an alternate alignment be considered for the proposed upgradation of the railway line passing through Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR) in Amravati district. Uddhav, in letters to Railways Minister Piyush Goyal and Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, said that the gauge conversion would have an irreversible impact on endangered species like tigers. “Considering the long term irreversible impacts of gauge conversion on endangered species like the tiger and their habitat, it would be appropriate to focus on the alternative alignments,” he wrote.
The chief minister’s suggestion came after the Railways sought permission to start gauge conversion work on the existing meter gauge line connecting Akola in Maharashtra to Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh, stretching 176 km. Of it, 38 km falls inside the reserve and around 23 km passes through the core area of MTR, which is spread over an area of 2768.52 sq km and is part of Satpura-Maikal landscapes.
Referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks that “conservation of tigers is not a choice but an imperative”, Uddhav wrote: “Hence, I request you to support the withdrawal of the proposal and consider alternate alignment of the railway line outside the Melghat Tiger Reserve in the interests of wildlife conservation in general and for protection of the tiger habitat in particular.” The proposal included open cutting of tunnels, which involves cutting and blasting of rocks using heavy machinery and explosives, and also realignment work away from the existing track to ease sharp curves.
“The proposed gauge conversion works between Akola and Khandwa, passing through the core area of MTR, will result in substantial increase in railway traffic in the long run, leading to huge disturbance to the core areas of the reserve,” Uddhav said, adding that pollution may also go up along the track.
He further said that the core area of the reserve has been made inviolate by rehabilitating 13 villages, of which six are located within 10-km radius of the existing railway line. Due to this, wildlife has significantly increased in the area. The project would reverse the benefits accrued from rehabilitation and habitat development, he added.
The CM said the Central Empowered Committee, appointed by SC, had asked National Board for Wildlife to reconsider its decision of diverting 160.94 hectares for the gauge conversion within Wan sanctuary of MTR. The board has returned the proposal to the state with a request to review it, he added.
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