Environmental issues may delay rail freight corridors

Written by Rajat Arora | New Delhi | Updated: Nov 12 2012, 07:10am hrs
Indias most ambitious rail infrastructure project of constructing 3,300 route kilometers of Dedicated Freight Corridors (DFCs) on the countrys eastern and western flanks at an estimated cost of approximately R80,000 crore may well go off the track as environmental issues threaten to delay the project.

Before the March 2013 schedule for signing the phase II of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) loan for the Western Corridor, the DFC Corporation (DFCC) needs to obtain approvals concerning three wildlife sanctuaries the Balaji Ambaji and Thol sanctuaries of Gujarat and the Sanjay Gandhi National Park of Maharashtra.

The 1,483-km-long Western Corridor is being constructed between Dadri and Mumbai, passing through Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra.

The DFCC has obtained clearances from the state wildlife boards of both state governments and in the case of the Ambaji Park, the National Board of Wildlife has also given the nod. However, there remains a long winding bureaucratic struggle ahead for the DFCC.

Besides approvals from the national and state wildlife boards, the DFCC needs sanction from the Centrally Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court. The permission from the environment ministry for diversion of forest land under the Forest Conservation Act of 1980 is also required.

JICA guidelines stipulate that unless the entire process is completed and all clearances are received, awards for contract work cannot be given. The deadline for both Western and Eastern corridor is 2016-17.

Completing the process within the next five months for the DFCC seems rather a hard task. Getting clearances from the CEC and environment ministry in such a short time seems difficult. We are trying hard but there could possibly be a delay in the process, an official said.

DFC tracks are proposed in a small 1.9-km stretch falling within the Ambaji Park, while the freight tracks fall within the 10-km eco-sensitive zone at the Thol Sanctuary and in the periphery of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

Work on the 1,893-km-long Eastern Corridor, from West Bengal to Punjab, might also get delayed as the plan to divert 76 km of forest area and the felling of 4,300 trees within the Taj Trapezium Zone is facing protests and the matter is in the Supreme Court.

Matters are progressing well as approvals from the state and national wildlife boards have been obtained. The issue is pending with the CEC of the Supreme Court, a DFCC spokesperson said.