Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has written to the Union government seeking alternative routes for the proposed upgradation of a railway line passing through the Melghat Tiger Reserve in Amravati district.
In letters to Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar and Union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal, the CM requested an alternative alignment for the Akola-Khandwa line, stating the long-term irreversible impact the work will have 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.
Thackeray wrote to the Centre 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. Of the 176-km-long Akola-Khandwa line, 38 km passes through the core area of the tiger reserve, which is spread over 2,768.52 sq km.
Melghat is a part of the Satpura-Maikal landscape and is among the nine places in the country designated as tiger reserves in 1973-74. The CM said that converting the Akola-Khandwa line from metre to broad gauge will lead to a rise in railway traffic in the long run, leading to disturbance to the core areas of the tiger reserve.
"It would lead to an increase in the speed of trains, restrictions on future expansions and modifications, and rise in pollution along the track," he said.
He added that the core area has been protected by rehabilitating 13 villages, six of which are located within 10 km of the railway line.
"Due to this, wildlife has significantly increased in the area. This project will reverse the benefits accrued from rehabilitation and habitat development," he added.
The CM said that the proposal included cutting and blasting of rocks using heavy machinery and explosives. "It also involves realignment away from the existing track to ease sharp curves on 23.48 km of the 38-km line passing through the core area of the tiger reserve. This amounts to realignment and not just gauge conversion along the track," he said.
The CM also referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's 'conservation of tigers is not a choice but an imperative' remark in his letter.
"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 CM also pointed out that in January 2019, the Wildlife Institute of India had recommended "avoidance of upgradation through the tiger reserve and opting for alternative alignments" as the best ways to reduce the risk posed by the railway line.
Along with ensuring the much-required space for wildlife, the realignment will also bring railway connectivity and great economic development to unconnected villages located in Jalgaon-Jamod and Sangrampur talukas, Thackeray said.