Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Tuesday permitted removal of about 25,438 mangroves in the Virar-Dahanu section for quadrupling of the Dahanu-Virar line on Western Railway, subject to the authorities complying with the conditions of compensatory afforestation, avenue plantation and plantation and maintenance of seedlings.
A division bench of Justices KR Shriram and Neela Gokhale granted permission while hearing a plea by Union of India seeking permission for removal of mangroves for the quadrupling of the Dahanu-Virar line project contending that the existing line is over-saturated due to long distance trains, goods services and suburban services and its utilization is more than 100%. The Centre contended that the local trains on this line are insufferably congested and it is not possible to increase the number of suburban services in this section.
The Quadrupling Project
To meet the demands of the ever-growing commuter traffic, work of quadrupling the Dahanu-Virar line is included in MUTP III Project, which has been assigned to Mumbai Railway Vikas Corporation (MRVC) by the Ministry of Railway. The quadrupling project involves augmentation of existing corridor and involves laying of third and the fourth lines parallel to and on the west of the existing double line corridor.
The most critical work in the project is the construction of Bridge Nos 92 and 93 over the river Vaitarna, which are of a length of 550 metres and 450 metres, respectively. There are over 25,000 mangroves in the path work of the bridge which are sought to be removed.
The court was informed that on February 28, 2022, the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MOEF&CC) granted “in principle” approval under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, for the project subject to compliance with several conditions.
One of the conditions was compensatory afforestation over 54 hectares of land for which the MRVC was required to deposit an amount in advance with the Forest Department. It also said that the agency shall carry out avenue plantation on both sides of track, preferably with native suitable mangrove species on one side towards sea and with species suitable for saline soils like Casuarina, Cashew, etc, on the other side.
Also, to improve the forest / tree cover and to reduce pollution in the state, as mandated in National Forest Policy, 1988 and Environmental (Protection) Act, the agency was asked to raise at least 25,000 seedlings of forestry species along with bamboo, fruit bearing, medicinal, ornamental and indigenous / local for 10 years.
Advocate General Birendra Saraf and additional government pleader Himanshu Takke said that on May 13, 2022, in compliance with the condition for “in principle” approval, the MRVC deposited Rs8,26,67,093 towards compensatory afforestation. Additional Rs61,13,107 was deposited with deputy conservator of forest, Dahanu for tree felling.
Rs14,36,41,278 was paid towards avenue plantation. The required plantation of mangroves will be carried by the Forest Department. Further, Rs1,50,15,748 was made towards cost of 25,000 seedlings of forest species, distribution of 12,500 seedlings among local people and cost of maintenance of 10 years.
Considering the various compliances, MoEF&CC granted “final approval” to the proposal on January 16 this year.
Advantages of the project
-To cater to the traffic demand because of recent development in the housing sector at different places such as Saphale, Boisar, Palghar, etc
-To provide boost to the industries with this corridor
-Seamless traffic between Churchgate-Dahanu Road-Gholvad
-Provide connectivity to JNPT-Konkan Railway by having interchange at Vasai
-Creation of additional capacities by introducing new suburban corridors
-Decongestion of existing corridors
-Reduction in accidental deaths due to trespassing, falling of passengers from train, etc
-Increase in number of services and vehicle kilometres
-Decongestion of entry/exit at the stations
-Reduction in overcrowding in suburban trains