Guj board to HC: Will forward proposal on Gir forest rail line

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Ahmedabad, Jan 27 (PTI) The state wildlife board has decided to forward, to the national board, for consideration the Railways proposal to upgrade the existing meter gauge line along with electrification of the track that passes through the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary, the forest department told the Gujarat High Court on Wednesday.

The state board told the court it deliberated upon the Railways proposal last year and has decided to forward it to the National Wildlife Board (NWB) for consideration.

It said the proposal forwarded by the Railways to use 148.14 hectares for upgrading the meter gauge track to broad gauge along with electrification is 'at nascent stage,' and there is no proposal to allot a separate parcel of land to the national transporter.

The state forest department told a division bench of Chief Justice Vikram Nath and Justice AJ Shastri that in order to protect the interest of lions and other species within the Gir Sanctuary, Railway authorities may be directed to ensure minimum speed limit for trains on the line that passes through the eco-sensitive zone.

The forest department made the submission in response to a PIL filed on the gauge conversion project.

The response came on an application moved by the amicus curiae in a 2018 suo motu petition seeking preservation of Gir's ecosystem, wherein objection was raised over gauge conversion and electrification of the track running through the Gir forests on grounds this would adversely affect the existing lion population in the sanctuary.

'The proposal is at a nascent stage... The State Board for Wildlife (SBW) deliberated upon the proposal on September 29, 2020, and it was decided to recommend this to the National Board for Wildlife (NBW) for consideration and necessary clearance subject to certain conditions and fulfilment of certain criteria,' the forest department said in its response.

The proposal will be forwarded to the NBW by the state government, and it is only after the apex board grants approval that the project shall be implemented, it said.

The department said the rail line in question has been existing in the Gir forest area before it was declared a sanctuary.

'The Railways authorities, who are also party to the present proceedings, can be directed to ensure minimum speed limit which can be maintained by trains to protect the interest of lions and also other species in the Gir forest,' it said.

The department said there are also proposals to lay an oil and gas pipeline requiring an area of 173.28 hectare land by Gujarat State Petronet Ltd, but the same runs at a distance of 4.8 km from the sanctuary. PTI KA RSY RSY